Health Council's Chief Criticizes Administration
By Ceci Connolly
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 4, 2004; Page A03
The president of the Global Health Council castigated federal health officials this week for abruptly ending 30 years of support for the private agency's work, saying the Bush administration caved in to election-year pressure from a "small clique of right-wing extremists."
In an unusually harsh speech Tuesday, Nils Daulaire accused the administration of choosing the political wedge issue of abortion over the free exchange of ideas when it rescinded $365,000 in grants and discouraged participation in the council's international conference, "Youth and Health: Generation on the Edge."
"It is the politics of health -- more correctly, the exploitation of sensitive global health issues for domestic political purposes -- that has kept them away," he said.
House Republican staffers and groups such as the Traditional Values Coalition lobbied the State and Health and Human Services departments to sever ties with the council because some participants hold views in conflict with administration policies on abortion and sex education.
Judie Brown, president of the antiabortion American Life League, said the council is mistaking "reproductive rights" for a medical issue.
"Pregnancy is a very normal and healthy state for a woman to experience; abortion is totally abnormal," she said. "He's railing at us, the pro-lifers, because he wants abortion to be protected and funded by the government."
Daulaire said he was not surprised by the work of the antiabortion leaders but "what was surprising -- and deeply disappointing -- was that our government's health policy leaders did not respond with the truth."
The flash point between the two sides is a policy known as the Mexico City Policy, initiated by President Ronald Reagan and revived by President George W. Bush, that prohibits any clinic abroad that receives U.S. aid to discuss abortion with clients.
For decades -- including the first three years of the current administration -- the U.S. government has not only subsidized the annual conference but also sent high-ranking health officials to speak at the gathering. Three years ago HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson discussed women's health, and last year Julie L. Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, spoke about severe acute respiratory syndrome.
By withdrawing funding and by discouraging federal employees from attending the Washington conference, officials "sacrificed the principles of participation and respectful dialogue to spurious allegations," Daulaire said.
HHS spokesman Bill Pierce rejected charges that the decision was politically motivated, saying the stumbling block was a law prohibiting federal dollars to be spent on lobbying. He said the group's plans to hold an "advocacy day" on Capitol Hill violated that rule.
"We don't lobby," Daulaire replied. He said organizations as diverse as Boeing Co. and the National Association of Evangelicals have held advocacy days and received federal money.
When the controversy arose in late April, conference organizers were reluctant to criticize the administration, saying they hoped to reach a compromise. But when that did not happen, Daulaire said, he decided to devote his entire keynote address to the dispute because "we have a responsibility to stand up and challenge those who hold positions of public trust when they are wrong -- and on this, they are wrong."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company