The Global Gag Rule: Time for a Change

There's an excellent piece by British journalist Kira Cochrane in the January 29 edition of the New Statesman on the Global Gag Rule, and it's a must-read for anyone interested in learning more about the United States' very special role in the global public health crisis that is unsafe abortion. The Gag Rule, FYI, denies USAID family planning funds to overseas organizations that provide safe abortion services, counseling, or information, even if they are using their own funds to do so, and even if abortion is legal in their countries. It was established in 1984 by Ronald Reagan, lifted by Clinton in 1992, and reinstated by Bush Jr. on the first full day of his presidency in 2001. Surprise, surprise.

Cochrane's article makes a number of important points: like the fact that in areas where organizations have agreed to the Gag Rule, anti-abortion groups dominate the abortion debate—and since U.S. contributions currently make up 40 percent of the global aid budget for population programs, those areas are not hard to find. She also includes some powerful examples of organizations and communities that have felt the impact of the Gag Rule, and highlights the following no-further-explanation-necessary stats:

  • Between 19 and 20 million unsafe abortions are performed worldwide each year, 97 per cent of them in developing countries.
  • Annually, unsafe abortion kills roughly 68,000 women.

Pretty appalling, especially when you go even deeper, like this January 2006 IPPF report does. So what is to be done? Cochrane points to the UK's Safe Abortion Action Fund as an important part of the struggle to counteract the negative impact of the Gag Rule, but she fails to mention that several members of the U.S. congress have been fighting to overturn the policy for some time. During the 109th Congress, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) tried to get the Gag Rule overturned via an amendment (approved by the Senate by a vote of 52-46) to the State Department reauthorization bill. Sadly, Senate leadership was unable to complete action on the bill, so the amendment died. But just last Monday (the sixth anniversary of Bush's reinstatement of the Global Gag Rule), Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-NY), joined by Rep. Chris Shays (R-CT) and 36 other co-sponsors, introduced the Global Democracy Promotion Act, which would overturn the Gag Rule in one fell swoop. Read Cochrane's article, then go here to find out how you can take action.

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