“Religious Left’s” Wrong-Minded Appeal on Global Gag Rule


Updated 6:10pm edt

Beliefnet’s Steven Waldman blogs about what he calls the "religious left’s" plea to President Obama not to repeal the Global Gag Rule. The plea needs a highlighter and red pen.

Waldman writes:

Pro-life Obama activists fully expect Obama to repeal the Mexico City "gag rule" — which prevents American dollars from going to groups that offer abortion services or advice. But some of them are urging the Obama administration Obama to delay action on that until he can put it in the context of a broader "abortion reduction" agenda. In other words, don’t make a big pro-choice move without also taking some abortion-reduction step.

First of all, the religious left’s (which is not really left but quite centrist) simplistic explanation of what the Mexico City Policy or Global Gag Rule does is woefully inaccurate. In fact, the Global Gag Rule is an executive order first put in place by Ronald Reagan – even though we already had (and have) explicit laws banning the use of federal U.S. taxpayer funds from being used to fund abortion services abroad (or in the U.S. for that matter). As I have written before on this site:

The Global Gag Rule was originally put in place by President Reagan, by executive order, to deny funding to international family planning organizations unless they agreed to specific curtailments as set by the United States on the medical services and information
they provided to their patients. That is, health centers that operate
in developing nations to help women and men plan their families and
avoid unintended pregnancies, were told that they would not be allowed
to provide abortions (regardless of whether or not it is legal in their
country to do so), refer to abortion services, discuss
abortion as an option, or even so much as hang a poster that mentions
abortion without potentially being denied funds for the provision of
health services that have nothing to do with abortion.

So, to make that point one more time:

The Global Gag Rule is not about banning federal U.S. funds from being used to pay for abortion services abroad. We had and continue to have separate laws governing this. 

The Global Gag Rule is about imposing censorship (that is unconstitutional in this country) on U.S. family planning funded NGOs that provide critical health services in developing nations; services like the provision of contraceptive supplies, family planning counseling, HIV prevention tools, maternal health care and more.

As Jodi Jacobson writes on this site:

In countries like Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, imposition of the
global gag rule has meant the loss of critical funds for the
contraceptive supplies and services needed to prevent unintended
pregnancies in the first place.  In virtually every country with high
fertility rates, lack of access to contraceptives means women have more
children than they want or can afford.

If a woman comes to a clinic and is in need of a life or health saving abortion? The health center is censored from providing a referral or even telling her that is what she needs. If a woman has been raped and wants to ask about abortion as an option? Again, she’s out of luck.

What of international organizations like International Planned Parenthood Federation that operate health centers in different parts of the world – some that provide abortions and some that don’t? If they operate a non-abortion providing health center in a developing nation (and many do) they must keep their family planning funding separate. Again, they would be breaking the law should they use any U.S. taxpayer funds for abortion services. 

Furthermore, the assertion that President Obama needs to "delay" the repeal of this harmful policy until he can also do something that furthers "abortion reduction" is stunning in its misunderstanding of the rule.

The Global Gag Rule does nothing if not hampers efforts at abortion reduction. It doesn’t take much to  figure out that if you block funds to family planning organizations for family planning efforts and actual contraception provision, you are increasing the likelihood of women becoming pregnant with an unplanned pregnancy. This is usually what leads to abortion.

Further, the very idea of "abortion reduction" is one that seems to strangely separate women from their bodies and the life growing inside them. "Abortion reduction" on its own sounds to me like a failed concept – abortion reduction at what cost? Any cost? How is that different from any extreme anti-choice belief system? The goal is not abortion reduction – the goal is ensuring that women and girls lives and health are valued, respected, and cared for, that women’s status in society is elevated so that we become fully autonomous, equal members of society.  The natural result will be that more women will be able to prevent unplanned or unintended pregnancy if they desire, women will be able to plan for their children, women will be able to gain economic self-sufficiency in greater numbers, women will have more control over their health and lives. 

If the religious left wants simply to reduce abortion, there is no reason not to rely on the same, tired, anti-choice legislation and constitutional challenges to get us there. The Global Gag Rule was put in place to appease anti-choice voices, rescinded by President Clinton and signed again by President George W. Bush as a nod to the religious right again. President Obama understands that these nods or gestures are more than symbolic – they are harmful to women and global society’s efforts to grow and evolve.

While the Global Gag Rule has become a favorite tool of the far-right to rally its base, their explanation of what it does it simply wrong. The religious left is not helpful to anyone by perpetuating these false ideas. 

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  • http://www.feministpeacenetwork.org invalid-0

    Amie, thank you for this excellent and necessary rebuttal. The notion of common ground at the expense of women’s lives and human rights is repugnant and unacceptable.

  • invalid-0

    I immediately tune out when I hear some individual or group calling for a new “abortion reduction” or “common ground” agenda. We already have a common ground abortion reduction strategy, and its name is Planned Parenthood.

    This self-described “religious left” can either do the right thing and get on board with International Planned Parenthood Federation, or they can profit by positioning themselves as agents of change while they undermine the good works of others. Its up to them.

    I am really tired of the “new common ground” hucksterism. We already know what works, and we know what doesn’t. And one of the things that doesn’t work is a bunch of guys pulling a PR stunt to make themselves look good. They can either get on board with the real common ground abortion reduction movement, more than 80 years old and still going strong, or they can stop wasting everyone’s time.

  • invalid-0

    Thanks, Amie! Well said indeed!

  • invalid-0

    Good post, Amie.

    Waldman sounds like another Amy Sullivan: a religious concern troll. He was defending Rick Warren before the inauguration. I agree with the first comment: Until the “religious left” (Sullivan, Waldman, Jim Wallis, etc.) decide to stop throwing women’s lives under the bus, they ought to stop whining about how the secular left doesn’t grovel to them enough — oops, I mean, “pay them enough respect.”

  • invalid-0

    Banning the gag rule IS abortion reduction! When Clinton banned it, abortions went down – when Bush reinstated it, abortions went up…I wish these idiots could get it through their thick heads that using effective contraception prevents abortions! It seems like such a simple concept to me!

  • invalid-0

    Has any one thought of the killing of these little one’s Have you seen an aboration. The babies are torn apart while feeling all the pain. I cannot see why you all don’t care about the babies. All that is said is the wellfare of the women that got herself PG. What about the baby. Sharon

  • sayna

    Sharon, it seems that your knowledge of abortion is limited to assertions made by the anti-abortion community in a film known as “The Silent Scream”. This film has been debunked by medical and scientific experts and criticized for dishonest claims and unethical behavior by others. Please read the following links for more information (I’ll warn you though, the second one can be very time-consuming):
    Source 1
    Source 2

    You criticize us for not caring about the fetus, but you don’t seem to care at all about the woman. You say that she “got herself PG”, which I can only assume means “pregnant”. This comes across as an accusation or a placement of blame. No woman intends to become pregnant unless she wants a child and women go to great lengths to prevent pregnancies so that they never have to have an abortion. However, in many parts of the world women can do little to nothing to control their fertility because contraception is not widely available and they often do not have any say in deciding whether or not they will have sex. I don’t understand how anyone could think that denying women access to contraception and sex education would reduce the number of abortions!

    Ms. Magazine had a recent article about the impact of the global gag rule in Kenya:
    Source 3
    As you can see, making abortion illegal does not make it stop. Women resort to desperate, unsafe measures and it can leave them permanently disabled or kill them. Sometimes women die from unsafe pregnancies even without trying to induce an abortion.

    You seem honestly concerned with ending suffering. I don’t know how you can object to the death of a fetus that does not even have the physical capacity to feel pain but turn a blind eye to the living, thinking, feeling, breathing women who would suffer and die if you got to force your beliefs on them.

  • invalid-0

    Women the world all over sacrifice so much to sustain the human race through pregnancy and delivery.In the developing world ,Africa in particular,unsafe abortion is one of the major causes of Maternal death.Unfortunately it is the easiest to prevent.In some parts of Africa ,Getting pregnant is a sure road to death wheraes getting an unsafe abortion is a confirmed death certificate!
    Denying women information,contraceptive commodities and Family Planning services is a sure way of condemning those women to their graves.
    In many parts of Africa the Global Gag rule did just that!Rescinding the rule withoiut mucgh ado is the best that has ahappened to Reproductive health advocates
    Dr Orero
    2008 Recipient of the Eleanor Roosevelt Global Award

  • sayna

    Is this the same Dr. Orero as mentioned in the Ms. link I just posted? You’re in this one too:
    Ms. | Summer 2003 | Global Gag Rules

  • therealistmom

    Your words always make sense on here Sayna, but that second link was fascinating. The sad thing was, the findings did not surprise me in the least, though many on the more conservative bent will just say their beliefs are about "morals". The kind of morals that deny medical care for already born children in the form of cuts in social programs while encouraging spending on military engagements that kill military and civilians alike.