Gag Me: Stop a Global Reproductive Health Disaster

Posted on 23 May 2012


by Mindy Townsend
May 22, 2012

The opposition to abortion rights have become even more powerful in recent years. In 2011 alone, 69 anti-choice measures were passed in 26 states. While this is very bad news for women across the country, acceptance of this type of extreme morality policing has another victim: developing countries.

Enter the Mexico City Policy, otherwise known as the Global Gag Rule. Essentially, the Global Gag Rule prohibits any foreign organization that receives family planning assistance from the United States from using its own money (i.e. money not from the U.S.) to provide information about abortions, referrals or abortion services, or advocate for the legalization of abortion in the country in which they work. According to the Population Action International, family planning organizations that had to decline U.S. money were forced to shut down clinics and cut services.

The Gag Rule is a Reagan-era policy that was reinstated by President George W. Bush, but was reversed early in President Obama’s term. So why are we talking about it now? A House panel has approved a bill that would reinstate the Gag Rule, as well as eliminate funding for the United Nations Population Fund.

This is a very, very bad thing, not just for individual women in developing countries, but also for those developing countries as a whole. In a 2003 report, the Center for Reproductive Rights found that, in Ethiopia, 55% of maternal deaths involved unsafe abortions. In Peru, there were 350,000 abortions performed under the radar, of which 1 in 7 were hospitalized. In Uganda, unsafe abortions accounted for one third of all maternal deaths in that country.

As you can see, abortions don’t stop just because anti-choicers in the United States pitch a fit. In fact, if improving the life and well-being of people around the world is the actual goal of U.S. aid, empowering women to take control of their reproductive lives is surely the best way to go. There is evidence to suggest that when girls are educated and women have economic power, everyone is better off, but this is hard to do when you have no control over your own reproductive system.

Even though reproductive health and autonomy is important to women all over the world, U.S. foreign aid policy on the matter continues to use it as a pawn in a political game. This is absolutely unacceptable. But Rep. Nita Lowey and Sen. Barbara Boxer have introduced the Global Democracy Promotion Act, which will block any future attempt to reinstate the Global Gag Rule. Consistency in this area is incredibly important. Foreign organizations that provide these much needed services need some financial security. We’ve been playing games with women’s health for too long. It’s time to stand behind women all over the world and show them that we take them seriously as human beings.