Will the Republican nominee reinstate the global gag rule on abortion?

Kenya 2012

By Irin Carmon

June 20, 2012

Also published at Salon

Description: http://internationalreportingproject.org/uploads/kenya_clinic-460x307.jpg

As much as reproductive rights were catapulted into major campaign issues this cycle – in the Republican primaries and beyond – one political football has remained unaddressed. That would be the global gag rule, which bars international organizations receiving U.S. funding from providing, referring for or even discussing abortion. It’s been implemented by every Republican president since Reagan and promptly lifted by Clinton and Obama. But reproductive health advocates here in Kenya haven’t stopped worrying.

Rosemarie Muganda-Onyando, a longtime women and adolescent health advocate who now works with the group PATH, put it pretty bluntly.

“We’re not sleeping at night.” She added, “If Mitt Romney did win – oh please do not talk about it.”

During the most recent round of the gag rule, lack of clarity even among advocates created a chilling effect. (Abortion is legal in Kenya in cases of risk to health and life, as well as in cases of sexual violence, though the constitutional provision is still poorly understood.)

“I think people just got really scared,” said Muganda-Onyando. “From our understanding, if you had any work on abortion, whether it was just prevention or education, even if that funding came from somebody else, you couldn’t get any funding at all. Even for a project on agriculture.”

An estimated 30 to 40 percent of maternal deaths in Kenya are attributed to unsafe, illegal abortion. At the same time, the decline in the fertility rate flatlined. There was another complication: “As HIV/AIDS money increased by leaps and bounds, you also did see a substantial decline in support for family planning.”

“We know that a Republican win could reverse some of the gains that have been made because since it was listed, “there’s been an increase in the U.S. government’s investment in family planning,” though another advocate told me that not that much has changed and some international staff don’t seem aware the policy has been lifted. Still, she says, “Right now the U.S. government invests more money in health in the region than any other country,” including healthcare projects like PATH’s, which serve an estimated 8 million people.

“I’m not exaggerating,” she said. “This is a real fear for us.”

— By Kate Sheppard

Mother Jones

Fri Apr. 1, 2011 3:17 PM PDT
Hosea Motoro washing a condom. Image courtesy of IRIN.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) may have taken his anti-abortion message to Kenya last week, but the policies Smith and other Republicans in Congress are pushing here at home are actually quite likely to increase the need for abortions there. The GOP budget included a 32 percent cut in funding for international reproductive health and family planning programs. It would also stop US contributions to the UN Population Fund, which provides family planning supplies and services.

Seeking to restrict abortion access while at the same time cutting funds for contraception, sex education, and other programs that help prevent unwanted pregnancies is nothing new for conservatives. But as I was writing on Smith’s trip to Kenya earlier this week, I came across this horrifying story about men in northern Kenya washing and recycling condoms. From IRIN:

Local TV channels recently showed images of men in Isiolo, in rural northern Kenya, washing condoms and hanging them out to dry; the men said the price of condoms meant they could not afford to use them just once. Other men in the village said when they had no access to condoms, they used polythene bags and even cloth rags when having sex.

What’s distressing about this story is not that the men are doing this; indeed, that shows that education campaigns are working. IRIN talks to one man, Hosea Motoro, who is HIV positive and who walks 3 miles to the nearest health center to get condoms so he can avoid infecting and impregnating his wife. Sometimes, though, the health center doesn’t have any to give him when he gets there. “When you go and you are lucky to get [condoms], you use, then you wash and use another time,” says Motoro.

So while Smith was in Kenya pushing an anti-abortion agenda, back in the states he and his allies are trying to defund the very programs that could help prevent people like Motoro and his wife from needing an abortion in the first place.

Also among the anti-abortion inclusions in the House-passed budget bill is the reinstatement of the global gag rule, a policy that bars organizations that receive government funding from offering abortion services or even discussing abortion as an option. The gag rule, also known as the Mexico City Policy, has been in place under executive orders issued by every Republican president since Ronald Reagan first instituted it in 1984. Both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama rescinded the rule as one of their first actions in office, but congressional Republicans now want to reinstate it through legislation.

The 1973 Helms amendment bans using foreign aid money to pay for abortion services. But the gag rule puts global health organizations in an even tougher spot: They can either offer abortion services and forgo federal funds, or they can take the money and not provide abortions. Since Obama repealed the order, international organizations that offer abortions can at least get funding for other vital services, like health care and family planning. But if House Republicans get their way, that will no longer be the case.


Anti-choice Republicans militating against federal funding of family planning threaten to wreck vital work against HIV infection

guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 9 February 2011
Around the world, people are fascinated by the political tussle between Democrats and Republicans over attempts to repeal the landmark US healthcare bill passed last year. Few people realise, however, that if the new Republican-dominated House of Representatives gets its way, it won’t just be Americans who are affected. As part of his repeal effort, House speaker John Boehner is intent on reintroducing the “global gag” rule, a policy that would endanger the lives of millions of women worldwide. America’s culture wars may be coming to a country near you.

The global gag rule, officially known as the Mexico City policy, was introduced by the Reagan administration in 1984, during the United Nation’s International Conference on Population in Mexico City. The policy prevents US overseas assistance from going to organisations that provide information on abortion, perform abortions or direct women to abortion providers.

Because the rule denies funding to organisations that simply counsel women on abortion issues, not just those that perform abortion, family planning Women from developing countries have been let down by the UN, say charitiesfacilities around the world cut back services, close facilities and raise their fees to cover lost income thereby reducing access to their services. These services include contraceptive distribution vital to the prevention of HIV/Aids. When George W Bush restarted the ideological war against family planning by reintroducing the gag rule in 2001, shipments of condoms and contraceptives from USAID was immediately halted to 16 countries. The impact was devastating.

Population Action International, an independent research organisation on family planning, reported that in Kenya five of the most established family planning clinics closed – many of which were the only affordable options in their areas. In Lesotho, where one quarter of women suffer from HIV/Aids, all condom donations from USAID were cut off. With fewer organisations to counsel on safe sex, and with fewer or no contraceptives to distribute, the gag rule actually increases the spread of HIV/Aids in some of the worse affected countries. This, of course, runs directly against official American policy aimed at reducing the number of global HIV infections.

Even more perversely, the policy is self-defeating. Research illustrates that instead of curbing abortions, the number of abortions increased. Countries with family planning services have lower rates of abortion than those without. Because women cannot get access to contraceptives and advice, they end up reliant on the last ditch option when pregnant: abortion. Often, desperate women resort to dangerous non-clinical practices in the absence of professional medical care. The results are horrific and inhumane.

Republicans are quick to accuse those who advocate for a woman’s right to chose of being pro-abortion. The reality is that we are pro-health. Being pro-choice is not equivalent to being pro-abortion. Rather, we understand that this is an issue best left to a woman and her doctor. Abortion is a fact of life, like it or not, and studies have shown that one of the best ways to reduce abortions is to offer preventive family planning, as well as immediate post-abortion family planning and counselling. The figures from one study on immediate post-abortion counselling in Turkey are revealing: the number of clients using contraception after an abortion and subsequent counselling rose from 67% to 91% in one year; and the number of abortions dropped over the decade from 4,100 in 1992 to 1,709 in 1998.

The global gag rule undermines America’s HIV/Aids policy, it risks the lives of countless women and it undermines a core American value – the freedom of speech. Women should have access to a wide variety of family planning and health counselling that should include everything from abstinence to abortion. To argue otherwise, given the evidence at hand, is not just reprehensible; it is immoral.


via ms. blog

The Global Gag Rule, originally an executive order from President Ronald Reagan to prevent U.S. funds from reaching organizations that provided abortion-related services overseas, may soon be permanently struck down.

President Obama signed an executive order repealing the Gag Rule in 2009, but the Senate’s new amendment to its Foreign Operations bill would once and for all prevent future presidents from reestablishing it.

The Gag Rule was previously rescinded by President Clinton in 1993, only to be reinstated by President George W. Bush in 2001. Permanently repealing the law would be a boon to comprehensive reproductive health care in the developing world.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) introduced the anti-Gag Rule amendment in the Senate Appropriations Committee, cosponsored by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sens.  Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD).

Arnie Newman wrote about The Global Gag Rule for RH Reality Check in 2007, saying:

… 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, discussabortion 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.

Sen. Lautenberg’s current amendment passed the Appropriations Committee on a vote of 19 to 11. Ten of twelve committee Republicans, along with Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson voted against it.

Dear Friends

As you may know,  Canada is hosting the G8 & G20 meetings this June. As host to the meetings, the Canadian Prime Minister wants to make maternal health a priority. However, he does not want to include contraception nor access to abortion where it is legal, nor health care for women who have had an illegal abortion. NAF has prepared the attached letter and we are asking for as many organizations to sign-on to this letter. This will demonstrate to the Prime Minister that the international community believes that any maternal health initiative cannot exclude these elements.

Would you be willing to have your organization listed as an organization supporting the letter that we will send just before the meeting? Would you also be willing to circulate this letter to other organizations in Russia asking for their support. If they are willing to support the letter please have them get in touch with me dfowler@prochoice.org so I can add their organization’s name to the letter. I need to know by the end of next week if you are willing to have your organization listed to this letter.

I appreciate very much your help and support for this very important challenge. It is really important to have as many organizations as possible from the G8 countries sign on to this letter so I very much hoping you will agree to have your organization list.


Dawn Fowler

Canadian Director

National Abortion Federation

(T) 250-598-1858

(F) 250-598-1859

(E) dfowler@prochoice.org

(W) http://www.prochoice.org/canada

Here is the letter:


Good Bye Gag Rule Forever?

Congresswoman Yvette Clarke (D-NY) introduced the Global Sexual and Reproductive Health Act of 2010 late last week. According to Congresswoman Clarke’s press release, the bill (HR 5121), “seeks to strengthen and expand the U.S. government’s current program on international family planning and reproductive health into a more comprehensive sexual and reproductive health program.” Its specific provisions would support family planning programs that aim to reduce unsafe abortion, prevent the spread of STIs and HIV, promote the use of contraceptives, train healthcare professionals, and provide education and outreach services.

The president of the International Women’s Health Coalition, Adrienne Germain, applauded the introduction of the bill, and said in a press release, “Access to contraception and safe abortion services is fundamental to a woman’s ability to exercise her rights to control her body, to self-determination, and to maintain her health. In the 21st century no woman should die or suffer the traumas of an unsafe or illegal abortion.” She added, “Providing the full menu of services that women and young people need is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.”

99% of pregnancy related deaths occur in the developing world and the vast majority of these fatalities are preventable. Representative Clarke further elaborated, “providing contraceptives to the 215 million women in developing countries who are not able to access modern contraceptive methods would avert: 53 million unintended pregnancies; 150,000 women from dying of pregnancy-related complications; 600,000 children from losing their mothers, and 25 million induced abortions each year. Simultaneously investing in family planning services and pregnancy-related care would achieve even greater results by slashing maternal deaths by 70% and newborn deaths by almost half.”