IN THE 2000 campaign, George W. Bush maintained a studiously moderate stance on social issues. Once he assumed office in January 2001, he betrayed that position and delighted his right-wing base by attaching antiabortion conditions to foreign assistance. These conditions laid down that family planning groups accepting federal money must not perform abortions, or even provide information about them to their patients. As we said at the time, forcing an organization to censor its views as a condition of receiving government money would be unconstitutional on free-speech grounds in this country. Mr. Bush's calculation, we supposed, was that Americans would overlook his contempt for free speech if the consequences were limited to far-off poor countries.
Now another election campaign has started, and Mr. Bush has dropped the pretense of moderation. He has followed up his defunding of groups that perform abortions by defunding other groups that associate with them. Last year Marie Stopes International, a British charity that had received State Department money for AIDS work among refugees, failed to win renewal of its grant; its sin was to have cooperated in China with the United Nations Population Fund, which has long been a target of Mr. Bush's right-wing supporters. This month in Washington, an annual conference on health in developing countries, which in previous years had been partially funded by the United States and had been attended by senior Bush administration officials, went ahead without U.S. government support. Again, its offense was to invite the dreaded U.N. Population Fund, along with the International Planned Parenthood Federation. Next month the biennial International AIDS Conference will convene in Bangkok, and the Bush administration will be doing less to support it than in the past: The administration's conservative supporters object that AIDS prevention strategies based on condoms will receive more emphasis in Bangkok than ones based on abstinence.
Abortion will always be an agonizing issue, and the right balance between abstinence and contraception is a fair subject for debate. But the attempt to deny conference platforms to groups that oppose the administration's view is inimical both to free speech and to scientific inquiry. To attack a conference of public health specialists, canceling grants that would have been used to allow delegates from developing countries to attend, is to drag the battles over abortion and conservative values into forums where they have no place.