U.S. policies on sexual health care under fire globally

Public health experts forcefully criticize U.S. policy for limiting access to reproductive and sexual health care in the developing world. As some religious leaders call for a broadening of how conservative Christians respond to AIDS abroad, health experts blame deteriorating health in the Third World on what they saw as past US administration’s accommodation of the concerns of religious conservatives.


According to a Guttmacher Institute study, an estimated 287,000 women die worldwide from pregnancy-related causes, and approximately 3 million babies do not survive past their first 28 days. The vast majority of these deaths occur within developing countries.

The US spends about $11 billion per year currently to provide pregnancy care to women and newborns. To reach the World Health Organization’s recommended level of antenatal, delivery, newborn and postnatal care to all women would raise spending to more than $24 billion – more than double the current expenditure.


Why it matters

Religious teachings on sex and sexuality have turned denominations into battlegrounds, but they have a more practical, immediate effect on people’s lives when they influence public health policy: They help determine what kind of medical services are available, which affects doctors’ ability to prevent or treat potentially deadly conditions.

Questions for reporters

  • Do religious groups or congregations in your region express views on the issues of reproductive and sexual health care? What are their views? How are they expressed?
  • Are religious groups in your area active on international sexual or reproductive health issues? What form does their activity take?

Additional articles

National sources


Public health experts

  • Chris Collins

    Chris Collins is vice president for public policy at the Global Health Council, which has headquarters in White River Junction, N.H., and Washington, D.C. The alliance of health care professionals, organizations, academic institutions, foundations and other entities works for “improvement and equity in global health.”

  • Nancy Padian

    Nancy Padian is an adjunct professor of epidemiology in the school of public health at the University of California, Berkeley. She is also a founding faculty member of the Center of Evaluation for Global Action at the university, a senior technical advisor of the Office of the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, and a consultant for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Global Health Program.


  • David A. Grimes

    Dr. David A. Grimes is clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology and a fellow of the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research at the University of North Carolina. He co-authored Section 4 of the Lancet report, “Unsafe abortion: the preventable pandemic.”

  • Susheela Singh

    Susheela Singh is vice president for research at the Guttmacher Institute and co-author of Section 2 of the Lancet report, “Sexual behaviour in context: a global perspective.”

  • Joan Kaufman

    Joan Kaufman is former director of the AIDS Public Policy Training Project at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and a lecturer in social medicine at Harvard Medical School. She is also a senior scientist at Brandeis University’s Schneider Institute for Health Policy at the Heller School of Social Policy and Management. She directs the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative’s China program. She is currently Associate Professor of Psychiatry and in the Child Study Center at Yale University School of Medicine.

  • Michael Reich

    Michael Reich is Taro Takemi Professor of International Health Policy at Harvard University’s School of Public Health.

Advocates of limiting U.S. funding of global programs that include abortion, condoms and/or contraception

  • Deirdre McQuade

    Deirdre McQuade is assistant director for policy and communications for the Pro-Life Secretariat of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

  • Richard Land

    Richard Land is president of the nondenominational Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, N.C., and previously served for 25 years as president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

  • Allan Sawyer

    Allan Sawyer is president of the American Association of Pro Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, headquartered in Holland, Mich.

  • Jim Daly

    Jim Daly is president of Focus on the Family, a global Christian ministry dedicated to helping families thrive. Contact Daly through Focus on the Family vice president of media and public relations Paul Batura.

  • Stephen C. Smith

    Stephen C. Smith is professor of economics and international affairs at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and author of Ending Global Poverty: A Guide to What Works (Palgrave MacMillan, 2005). The book discusses the role of faith-based organizations.

  • Russell Moore

    Russell Moore is director of the Public Theology Project at Christianity Today.

Advocates of U.S. funding of global programs that include abortion, condoms and/or contraception

  • Center for Health and Gender Equity

    The Center for Health and Gender Equity in Takoma Park, Md., monitors “the effects of U.S. international policies on the health and rights of women, girls, and other vulnerable populations in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.”

  • FHI 360

    FHI 360, formerly titled Family Health International, is a nonprofit organization that works to improve health in more than 60 developing countries. It conducts behavioral, biomedical and health services research in support of numerous global health priorities, including contraception, reproductive health, HIV, malaria, rotavirus, and other infectious diseases, such as avian influenza. FHI also implements programs in developing countries, with an emphasis on preventing HIV infection, tuberculosis, and other illnesses, as well as in the care, support, and treatment of those already infected.

  • EngenderHealth

    EngenderHealth of New York is a nonprofit organization working to “support and strengthen reproductive health services for women and men worldwide” that has collaborated with religious organizations.

  • The Center for Faith and Community Health Transformation

    The Center for Faith and Community Health Transformation in Park Ridge, Ill., has done research on religion’s influence on policy-making.

  • Religious Consultation on Population, Reproductive Health and Ethics

    The Religious Consultation on Population, Reproductive Health and Ethics is a multifaith organization of religious scholars interested in reproductive health and other issues. Daniel Maguire, professor of moral and theological ethics at Marquette University, is president.

Regional sources

In the Northeast

  • Margaret A. Farley

    Margaret A. Farley is the Gilbert L. Stark professor emerita of Christian ethics at Yale Divinity School in New Haven, Conn. She is Catholic and has written widely about Christian sexual ethics.

  • Marvin M. Ellison

    Marvin M. Ellison is Willard S. Bass Professor of Christian Ethics at Bangor Theological Seminary in Maine, author of Same-Sex Marriage? A Christian Ethical Analysis and an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA).

  • Radhika Balakrishnan

    Radhika Balakrishnan is  is the Executive Director of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers University. Currently, she serves as the Chair of the Board of the United States Human Rights Network and Chair on the Board of the Center for Constitutional Rights. Her interests include ethics, sexuality and reproduction. A participating scholar with the Religious Consultation on Population, Reproductive Health and Ethics, she was formerly a program officer in New York for the Ford Foundation.

  • Stephen Ellingson

    Stephen Ellingson is assistant professor of sociology at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., and co-editor of Religion and Sexuality in Cross-cultural Perspective (Routledge, 2002).

  • Rosalind Petchesky

    Rosalind Petchesky is a Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and author of several books on reproductive health, including Global Prescriptions: Gendering Health and Human Rights (Zed Books, 2003).

  • Visions in Action

    Visions in Action is a Washington, D.C., faith-based organization that provides abstinence and faithfulness programs and other AIDS services in Africa under a government contract.

  • Catholic Medical Mission Board

    Catholic Medical Mission Board is a faith-based international health organization providing AIDS services in Africa under PEPFAR contract.

In the South

  • Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im

    Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im is Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law at Emory University School of Law in Atlanta. He is an expert on Islamic law, and his interests also include human rights, reproductive rights and women’s rights in Islam. He is a participating scholar with the Religious Consultation on Population, Reproductive Health and Ethics.

  • World Hope International

    World Hope International of Alexandria, Va., is a faith-based organization that has a government contract to provide abstinence and faithfulness promotion programs in Haiti.

  • Christine E. Gudorf

    Christine E. Gudorf, professor of religious studies at Florida International University in Miami, has written about the issues of integrating ethics into hospital care. She teaches a course on reproductive ethics and wrote a chapter on contraception and abortion among Catholics for the book Sacred Rights: The Case for Contraception and Abortion in World Religions.

  • Michele Rivkin-Fish

    Michele Rivkin-Fish is associate professor of anthropology at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. She studies health and gender issues related to development.

In the Midwest

  • James B. Martin-Schramm

    James B. Martin-Schramm is an associate professor of religion and head of the department of religion and philosophy at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. He attended the 1994 U.N. International Conference on Population and Development as a delegate for a nongovernmental organization. He also served on the Population and Consumption Task Force of the President’s Council on Sustainable Development. He is the author of Population Perils and the Churches’ Response (World Council of Churches, 1997). His interests in Christian ethics include population policy and environmental issues.

  • Tola Olu Pearce

    Tola Olu Pearce is a professor of sociology and women’s and gender studies at the University of Missouri-Columbia with interests in HIV/AIDS in Africa, medical sociology and anthropology and women’s health.

  • C. Ben Mitchell

    C. Ben Mitchell is director of the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity, in Bannockburn, Ill., and associate professor of bioethics and contemporary culture at Trinity International University in Deerfield, Ill. He is editor of the journal Ethics & Medicine: An International Journal of Bioethics.

  • World Renew

    World Renew, formerly called the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, of Grand Rapids, Mich., is a grant recipient under a government contract. Its programs in Africa promote faithfulness and abstinence.

  • Nazarene Compassionate Ministries

    Nazarene Compassionate Ministries in Kansas City, Mo., is a faith-based organization that provides abstinence and faithfulness programs and other AIDS services in Africa under a government contract.

In the West

  • Kirtly Parker Jones

    Dr. Kirtly Parker Jones is a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Utah Medical School in Salt Lake City. She teaches the ethics of reproductive medicine.

    Contact: 801-581-3834.
  • Claire Brindis

    Claire Brindis is a professor in the departments of pediatrics and obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences and director of the Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies at the University of California, San Francisco.

  • Dr. Laila Al-Marayati

    Dr. Laila Al-Marayati is a physician and past president of the Los Angeles-based nonprofit Muslim Women’s League, which represents Muslim women and supports the status of women as equal members of society. The league has a speakers bureau and position papers on topic issues such as divorce, honor killing, female genital mutilation, gender equality, inheritance and women’s dress. Members often speak at interfaith public events and at their children’s schools to increase awareness, particularly during Ramadan.

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