Yesterday, Congresswoman Nita Lowey introduced the Global Democracy Promotion Act of 2011, a bill that would permanently repeal the Global Gag Rule (GGR), a policy that has been applied and revoked via executive order at each change in the White House, beginning with Ronald Reagan and leading most recently to repeal by President Obama in 2009.
The GGR prohibits international health care providers from receiving U.S. international assistance for family planning if those organizations use other (non-US) funding to provide abortion counseling, referrals, or services, or seek to change laws regarding abortion care in countries in which abortion is a leading cause of death among women ages 15 to 49. Access to contraception and to family planning counseling and information helps women and their partners to plan the number and spacing of children they want to have and to avoid unintended pregnancies that lead to abortion. As such, by denying U.S. international assistance to groups that also provide safe, legal abortion, the GGR actually increases the number of abortions, rather than reducing them.
These facts notwithstanding, as we reported last week, House Republicans are seeking to enshrine the gag rule into law. First, the included it in the 2012 State Department Authorization bill which passed out of committee last week. This week, apparently not wanting to leave any doubt about their desire and intentions to undermine women’s health and rights to self-determination, House leadership also included language in the House FY2012 appropriations bill that would make the GGR permanent law. And just to be sure, leadership also included in that bill a ban on U.S. support for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and cuts to international family planning assistance. The bottom line of all these policies if passed would mean less support for family planning and more constraints on evidence-based programs, at a time when 215 million women worldwide want to plan their families but have no access to contraception, a set of conditions that again, will not reduce the number of abortions. This bill is expected to be marked up in committee today.
The GDPA would do the opposite, by ensuring under U.S. law that U.S.-funded international family planning programs would be free to deliver services based on public health and medical evidence and in a manner that promotes the basic health and rights of women. In countries where complications of unsafe and illegal abortions are leading killers of women ages 15 to 49, it is irresponsible to say the least to force medical practitioners to remain silent about these issues.
Lowey is the ranking Democrat on the House State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee. Her bill was introduced with 103 original co-sponsors.
“A fundamental principle of medical ethics holds that health care providers must deal honestly and openly with patients,” said Lowey upon introducing the bill.
“However in sixteen of the last twenty-six years, the Global Gag Rule has forced eligible health providers to choose between receiving U.S. aid or upholding their medical obligation to patients. The Global Democracy Promotion Act would end this counter-productive requirement.”
Lowey’s bill seeks to ensure that “U.S. foreign aid policy promotes the American standards of freedom of speech and democratic participation in other countries, [and would] prevent foreign NGOs from being forced to sacrifice their right to free speech and their obligation to provide truthful, comprehensive information to patients in order to participate in U.S. supported programs,” noted Lowey.
Permanent repeal is critical to create a predictable policy climate for organizations that provide family planning and reproductive health services in poor communities overseas. Some service providers in poor countries have had their U.S. program funding stopped then restored four times, leaving clinics, patients, doctors, and communities uncertain about prospects for U.S. support.
Organizations such as Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Population Action International and a range of others are supporting the bill and are asking citizens to call their members in support of the GDPA.