Global Gag Rule Reinstated
I’m not sure if you heard, but about a week and a half ago, the Global Gag Rule, a policy used to limit U.S. international family planning spending to organizations who do not provide abortions or even abortion-related services, was reinstated. According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, on May 8, the House Republicans “released a fiscal year 2013 spending bill for foreign aid and other State Department programs that includes a rider to reinstate the so-called “global gag rule.” And I only heard about this today. Why isn’t this trending on Twitter? Why aren’t people in the streets protesting? Maybe it’s because this policy falls directly in line with the most prevalent–and least credible–attack on women’s rights these days: the alleged connection between contraception and abortion.
Let me break down the history of this law for you. It was originally put into place at the UN International Conference on Population in Mexico City, in 1984, under the Reagan administration. Many organizations chose to adjust their policies in compliance with the rule, but some didn’t. For example, the International Planned Parenthood Federation did not, and subsequently lost 20% of it’s funding. The policy remained in effect until 1993, when President Clinton rescinded the legislation, claiming that these “excessively broad anti-abortion conditions” were unwarranted. However, in 2000, George W. Bush reinstated the law, leaving it in place until 2009, when President Obama yet again rescinded it. I think that Population Action International put it perfectly when they summarized the law’s history, saying: “The Gag Rule hurts women by allowing critical programs to be held hostage to the ping-pong game of U.S. partisan politics.” And we all know just how much pinging and ponging is going on these days.
When President Bush reinstated the law, he claimed that it was in an effort to make abortion “more rare.” One might think that in order to reduce the rate of abortions, our government would strive to increase access to high-quality birth control around the world, allowing women to prevent unplanned pregnancies before they start. However, this policy does exactly the opposite, limiting the facilities that can receive U.S. family planning funding to those that do not provide any abortion-related services. Such tactics have never been demonstrated to reduce the rate of abortions. What has been proven effective in reducing abortion rates is the coupling of abortion and contraceptive services within the same facilities. Pinar Senlet, in his study of various reproductive health clinics in Turkey, found that when birth control was provided before or directly after abortions, contraceptive use among clients dramatically increased, and the rate of abortions was reduced. And the best part? This is an incredibly easy and cost-effective model to implement.
The Global Gage Rule is generally explained as simply anti-abortion, but when examined carefully, one can see that it is equally anti-contraception. The same clinics that may provide legal abortions or abortion-related services–and are therefore being cut off from U.S. government family planning funds–are still eligible to receive funds for HIV/AIDS prevention and other services. Only funds for contraception are being taken away, suggesting a perceived connection between abortion and birth control. What makes me the most upset, is that this mentality is still being expressed through public policy, in spite of the fact that many things have changed since the Global Gag Rule was written. Abortion is becoming legal in more and more countries around the world, meaning that the U.S. is now providing family planning assistance to many more organizations that can legally provide abortions. According to this piece by the Guttmacher Institute,
“Today, more than half of all women living in the developing world live in countries where abortion is broadly legal; family planning support from the USAID now goes to 35 countries in which abortion is legal under circumstances broader than allowed under the gag rule.
The gag rule policy, in effect, ignores local law and imposes a ‘U.S.’ position on abortion–one that does not, however, reflect either U.S. law or U.S. public opinion.” (my emphasis)
I know our government seems to have forgotten this in recent months, but abortion is still legal in the United States. So why are we acting like it shouldn’t be outside of our borders? The Global Gage Rule violates: “the sanctity of the doctor-patient relationship, freedom of speech, respect for national sovereignty and promotion of democracy” (Cohen 1). And we need to repeal it, once and for all.