"It is clear that the
provisions of the Mexico City
Policy are unnecessarily broad and unwarranted under current law, and for the
past eight years, they have undermined efforts to promote safe and effective voluntary
family planning in developing countries. For these reasons, it is right for us
to rescind this policy and restore critical efforts to protect and empower women
and promote global economic development."
President Obama, January 24, 2009
What is the Global Gag Rule?
The Global Gag Rule denies family planning funds to any foreign nongovernmental organization that uses its own (non-U.S.) money to provide legal abortion services or counseling, gives referrals on safe abortion options, provides facts about the consequences of unsafe abortion, or participates in public debate, no matter how informal, that might improve access to safe services. The Gag Rule does not, however, prohibit speech against abortion. The policy applies even if abortion is permitted by local laws, and even if organizations use non-U.S. money for any of the activities listed above.
- Organizations cannot do any research to determine how many women die or are injured as a result of unsafe abortion in their countries, and cannot publicize those statistics.
- Even if abortion is legal (as it is in most countries in the world under certain circumstances), organizations are prohibited from giving women information about where they might obtain a safe, legal procedure.
- An organization that receives any funds from the United States-which is the largest bilateral donor in many countries-faces what one local leader calls "Sophie's Choice": The group must either knowingly withhold information and services from often desperate women, or risk losing what is often the bulk of its funding.
|Women from 59 countries gathered in front of the White House to protest the Global Gag Rule during the April 2004 March for Women's Lives in Washington, D.C.
The Good News First
The Bad News Next
Understanding the negative implications of the Global Gag Rule including that it stands in the way of efficient use of financial resources, President Obama rescinded the harmful policy on January 23, 2009. Family planning assistance can now go to the organizations best qualified and stationed to provide these basic health care needs.
One of the first moves of the newly elected House of Representatives was to pass a provision to put the Global Gag Rule into law (rather than a presidential policy) as it worked on the Fiscal Year 2011 funding bill in February 2011. While this provision passed the House, the bill now needs to be considered by the Senate, a common version agreed to by both bodies, and then signed into law by the President - so a long journey ahead.Working with many colleagues - and you - IWHC will continue to fight to prevent this provision becoming law through any legislative effort and to promote provisions that would prevent the Global Gag Rule from being reinstated with a stroke of a pen from a new president in the future..
A Short History of a Long Debate
In 1984 President Ronald Reagan imposed the Global Gag Rule (GGR) on USAID family planning funds. The policy is also known as the "Mexico City Policy" because it was announced by the Administration at an international population conference in Mexico.
On his first day in office in 1993, President Bill Clinton lifted the restrictions, though under a Republican controlled Congress did sign the GGR into law for one year - the first and only time the policy has been law. President George W. Bush gave an early indication of his Administration's policies toward women in the developing world when he reinstated the Gag Rule on the first full day of his presidency in 2001. Subsequently, President Bush tried to extend the gag rule's reach by attaching it to the Global HIV/AIDS Act, but public outcry forced the Administration to back down, citing a desire to keep global HIV/AIDS funds separate from "abortion politics." The President then issued an executive order in August 2003 that expanded the Gag Rule to include organizations receiving money through the U.S. Department of State. These funds go to groups serving some of the most vulnerable women in the world: refugees and migrants displaced by war and civil unrest, who are often the victims of rape and sexual violence.
The Truth about the Global Gag Rule
Opponents of abortion claim that the Gag Rule merely prevents U.S. support for abortion overseas-but using U.S. tax dollars to fund most abortions overseas has been illegal since 1973 under the so-called Helms amendment. Thus, in practice, the Global Gag Rule primarily impacts comprehensive reproductive health services. It does nothing to reduce the incidence of abortion, because it does nothing to reduce the incidence of unwanted pregnancy. Quite the opposite, the funding ban forces clinics that offer women access to contraceptives and vital health services-often the only existing clinics in underserved areas of countries with weak public health systems-to cut back their services or even, in some cases, to close. It thus denies women access to contraception, counseling, referrals, and accurate health information, causing more unwanted pregnancies, more abortions many of which would be unsafe, and arguably, more deaths.
The Global Gag Rule’s Impact on Free Speech
The Global Gag Rule shows a willingness to impose restrictions on foreign organizations and withhold information and services from foreign women that would be considered unacceptable, and, in some cases, would be illegal in the United States. The Global Gag Rule is an attack on free speech and is in direct conflict with the U.S. commitment to promoting democratic values and civil society institutions overseas.
The Global Gag Rule's Impact on HIV Prevention
Comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services should include HIV Prevention because of the synergistic work of protecting sexual and reproductive rights and preventing the spread of HIV. Funding restrictions, such as the Global Gag Rule, place onerous limitations on organizations' flexibility to maximize the support from different funding streams to improve reproductive health services. The Global Gag Rule also makes collaborations between PEPFAR-funded programs and those funded by bilateral family planning difficult or impossible further limiting access to reproductive and sexual healthcare.
Overturning the Global Gag Rule
Together with a number of organizations, IWHC is working to build support for congressional efforts to overturn the Global Gag Rule, and to block further expansion or its legislative enactment.
Even with President Obama rescinding the Global Gag Rule, more needs to be done to end the flip flop between policies of different administrations. In the past, women health and rights advocates in Congress have worked to pass a bill - the Global Democracy Promotion Act - which would prohibit putting restrictions on foreign organizations that would be unconstitutional to impose on US organizations. IWHC will continue to work with Congress to enact into law this kind of provision to put an end to this harmful, arbitrary policy.
What You Can Do>>
Take action. Call your Senators and Representative and ask them to oppose efforts to put the Global Gag Rule into law. Tell them we all need to work together to ensure that this misguided policy does not get reinstated and that we can no longer allow this policy to be used to restrict women's access to these basic health services and to violate free speech.
Donate to IWHC. IWHC is one of the few donors worldwide providing support for organizations that raise awareness about the consequences of unsafe abortion and work to expand access to safe services. By supporting us, you will strengthen our support for these groups. Click here to make a contribution.
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