Challenges of Selling a Message to the Media

Following Scruggs' remarks, the afternoon session, chaired by Dr. Ursula Sottong, Vice President of the German Women's Council, dealt among others with the challenges of selling a message to the media. In an extensive statement, Susan Cohen, Senior Public Policy Associate at the Alan Guttmacher Institute, Washington, said: "It is very very difficult to get any messages out that might not have the sexy appeal or the conflict aspects to it that abortion politics always have in our country (United States)."

The Alan Guttmacher Institute is a NGO focusing on reproductive health policies and has an agenda that involves policy related with research, public education and applicacy. "We are not a membership organisation but we use the power of information through the media and other outlets to try to affect change, particularly vis-à-vis the US government," added Cohen.

She drew attention to a report, released on May 15, which warned that neglecting young women's reproductive health needs threatened world wide progress. The Alan Guttmacher Institute entitled Into a New World: Young Women's Sexual and Reproductive Lives notes that adolescent women throughout the world need improved access to education, information about sexuality and reproduction, and a full range of reproductive health services, regardless of their marital of childbearing status.

The services needed include those for contraception, sexually transmitted diseases (STD) and pregnant and/or parenting women. The 260 million 15-to-19-year old women throughout the world are the next generation of mothers, workers and leaders. For young women to fulfil these roles to the best of their abilities, their sexual experience must be acknowledged and their educational and reproductive health needs must be met, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute. The report highlighted that

• Up to 60 percent adolescent births throughout the world are planned, and about one in nine adolescents lack the contraceptive protection they need to prevent an unwanted pregnancy;

• one-third to two-thirds of young women obtain less than seven years of schooling in most developing countries; and,

• over 300 million cases of curable STDs occur world wide each year, with young women especially susceptible to these diseases and bearing the most serious consequences.

Cohen criticised the stance taken by the US Congress which she characterised as one that is involving abortion with politics and a domestic dispute. "But I would submit that it in fact it involves very critical principles of foreign policies".

She added: "As recently as 1994 at the Cairo Conference the U.S. did have a coherent population policy and one that was consistent with the world wide consensus that was ratified by 187 nations at the Cairo Conference. Since that time we have had a revolution in U.S. politics with a Congress overtaken by the Republican Party....

"When we began our engagement in population programmes back in the 1960s this was something that was recognised - family planning in particular as important for domestic concerns as well as fulfilling international responsibilities. Both the domestic and the international programme began under the auspices of then President (Richard) Nixon. He was hardly viewed as a progressive in many circles. But in fact, while he was president these programs got underway...The U.S. was virtually around and exercising leadership in this area."

But with the beginning of the 1980s when President Reagan was first elected, the ideological battles intensified. And it was really at the 1984 population conference in Mexico City - for which the Reagan administration appointed a U.S. delegation - it was announced that there was going to be a change in the policies overseas. Two major principles were proclaimed at that conference, one that population growth was not a problem to be addressed. Secondly it was announced consistent with president Reagan's strong backing for anti-abortion organisations in the United States and his own personal commitment to that, that the U.S. was not longer going to give funding to any NGOs that were not willing to denounce their involvement with perfectly legal abortion activities including the performance of abortions with their own funds.

Cohen went on to say: "The second part was a policy that lasted from the mid-eighties until President Clinton took office in 1993. He was able to avoid this policy because it was never endorsed by a Congress. In fact in all the years it was in effect. And that is an aspect of our system where the President can just articulate and impose a policy without the endorsement of Congress. That also meant that President Clinton was equally able to revoke it - what he did. And so we have that window of opportunity between January 1993 and January 1995.

"But we now have Senator Jesse Helms chairing the formulation committee. Senator Helms until a month ago in his (nearly) 30 years in the Senate has never ever in his whole career voted for a foreign aid bill. And he is now in charge of our foreign policy. He now has many counterparts in Congress. But that has very important consequences because of course that means that those are the people that reset the debate and determine the agenda and they have done it with the vengeance."

© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | net edition fes-library | Dezember 1998

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