Speech for the US Senate and the Congress

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I am very pleased and honoured to speak to you today. Here in the heart of US democracy.

I will speak about issues which are of vital importance in today’s rapidly changing world. Especially since September 11.


More than ever before there is a recognition that supporting development in poor countries is an essential pre condition for a peaceful and sustainable world. Since the terrorist attacks in the US, people all over the world have become even more aware of their interdependence. We cannot isolate ourselves and safeguard peace, democracy, freedom of speech, stability and prosperity in our own enclave. We cannot ignore whole regions of the world.

More than ever before there is a recognition that we need less poverty and more democracy. A growing number of people now understand that we urgently have to invest more in poverty reduction. This means investing in health, specifically in reproductive health. Empowering women means providing them with the tools and information for them to access appropriate health care. An essential part of this is access to reproductive health information and services.

In my country, the Netherlands, we have a strong commitment to ensuring access to reproductive health care information and services. This commitment is reflected in both our domestic policy and our international development policy.

I would like to share with you some lessons which we learned in the Netherlands.

Looking domestically, my country has the lowest teenage pregnancy in the world and also the lowest abortion rate in the world. There are approximately 7.7 births per 1,000 women aged 15-19 in the Netherlands, in the United States there are 55.6, that is over 5 times the amount. In the Netherlands there are 3.9 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-19, in the United States, there are almost 10 times the amount—30.2.

We have managed to reduce teenage births by 72 percent in the past thirty years.

What does the Dutch experience have to do with the Mexico City Policy?
First, I would like to say, that we did not reach these achievements by restricting access to information to youth or by denying women the right to choose abortion. Our achievements in reducing abortion rates and unwanted pregnancies are a direct result of a pragmatic policy that emphasizes sex education at an early age and access to contraceptives in a supportive and understanding atmosphere. Like in the United States, we have tremendous political support for the prevention of unwanted pregnancies, but we have taken a different approach than the U.S. to tackling these issues, and it is clear by the numbers which country has been successful in this regard.

In the Netherlands, we place great value on education --a majority of our primary schools teach sex education, all of our secondary schools do so. The central message that we send in our schools is one of responsibility—that if one decides to have sex, one must learn to care for their health and the health of their partner and to respect one another. So you might be thinking that Dutch teens are having sex at an early age and all the time. In fact, youth in the Netherlands have a higher average age at first intercourse than teens in the United States.

Another reason for our success has been a policy that takes an integrated approach to reproductive health in that it understands the best way to prevent unwanted pregnancies is to reach out to women who have unwanted pregnancies. So, contraceptive services are an integral part of safe abortion services. The Dutch policy in no way promotes abortion-- it prevents it. Our aim is to avoid the need for abortion—and we have. The result has been that my country has some of the highest levels of contraceptive use in the world and as I have noted, low abortion rates.

We have thus, mirrored our international development policy on our successful domestic policy. We fund clinics that provide abortion services because we know that the best way to prevent repeat abortions is make sure contraceptives are distributed to women who have experienced unwanted pregnancies.

The Mexico City Policy, by denying funding to NGOs that provide abortion services, is denying women access to information, contraception, ways to prevent STI and HIV/AIDS and is thus, contributing to declining health of women in the developing world.
Thus by separating contraceptive and information services from abortion services, as the Mexico City Policy does, women will not get the information and the contraceptives necessary to prevent another unwanted pregnancy. Based on the highly successful Dutch experience, where services are integrated, I can say US policy is taking the wrong approach.

The Global Gag rule is destroying your good reputation. Since the 1960’s the US has been a leader in family planning assistance. The US was one of the first countries to provide family planning assistance to poor countries. Tens of millions of couples around the globe use family planning as a direct result of US assistance. Many millions more have benefited indirectly from improvements in services resulting from American advice and innovations. This is something the US can be proud of. But it is also something one cannot take for granted.

I would also like to add that the reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy also severely curtails the effectiveness of already limited overseas development assistance in the area of family planning and reproductive health.

The shortfall in donor resources for international family planning and reproductive health programs, as discussed by my colleague from the United Kingdom, is a serious problem that is contributing to conditions of poverty and social injustice.

Because of its size and wealth, the US remains the largest bilateral donor to international family planning programs. But the US still ranks last out of 22 major donors in its contribution relative to gross national product. My country, by contrast, spends almost 10 times more the amount of GNP on official development assistance than does the US.

Five leading US research organizations conservatively estimate that the 35% reduction in appropriations for USAID family planning assistance, that occurred between 1995 and 1996, alone resulted in 4 million unplanned pregnancies, 1.6 million abortions, 8,000 maternal deaths, and 134,000 infant deaths due to high-risk births. Although funding levels have increased slightly, the harsh limits of the Mexico City Policy further compromise women’s health and lives. The US must increase its development and population funding to set an example which will better reflects your role as the world’s largest economy.

The Netherlands has been the leader in financial support to reproductive health and rights of women in developing countries. At this moment around 6% of Dutch international development money is spent on reproductive health. Direct priorities for our reproductive and sexual health assistance are safe motherhood, family planning, prevention and treatment of unsafe abortion and of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS, inclusion of men, adolescents and refugees, and promotion of reproductive and sexual rights.

Our common goal is to provide women with the information, education, resources and tools that enable them to realize their full potential. To achieve this goal we need to support programs domestically and internationally that assist women in realizing their high standards of health, particularly reproductive health, and their right to decide feely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children. If we use the Dutch experience as a model on how to address sexual and reproductive health both at home and internationally, we will see reduced abortion rates, reduced rates of unwanted pregnancies and healthier societies. Otherwise, I am afraid, we will be facing a grave global health crisis with negative impact on global stability and peace.

1 reactie

lieve Ans,

Nou , nou, dat is een duidelijke, best sterke speech,over een heftig belangrijk onderwerp, zeg! Een tongverstuikende woordenstroom...! Zaten er nou ook vrouwen onder je toehoorders? En denk je dat het begrepen is?
In mijn optiek, en zelfs uit persoonlijke ervaring : Amerikanen doen over sex en relaties echt nog steeds waanzinnig preuts.
De Pilgrimfathers die in 16honderd nogwat uit Delfshaven vertrokken
( www.delfshaven.com/nederlands/historie/vluchtbasis.htm )
dachten en handelden ongeveer ook zo, en het lijkt maar niet anders te kunnen op dat terein daar aan de ander kant van de oceaan....

Als jou boodschap is ingeslagen en wordt opgepikt heb je misschien wel geschiedenis gemaakt..?!

Succes!

Jeanne.

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