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Sending Global Gag on a One-Way Trip to Oblivion

Elayne Weiss,
Washington Legislative Office
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July 27, 2011

It’s time for politicians to quit playing games with the reproductive health care of women around the world by making sure that the Global Gag Rule, a dangerous, anti-democratic restriction on overseas family planning aid, remains a thing of the past. Thankfully, Representative Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) reintroduced the Global Democracy Promotion Act (H.R. 2639) this week, which protects U.S. foreign aid from politicized restrictions by ensuring that international organizations are not banned from getting U.S. aid based on the type of health or medical services, counseling or referral they offer.

Up to this point, the Global Gag Rule has been re-imposed and rescinded several times since its introduction in 1984 based on the political party occupying the Oval Office. When the policy is in place, it prohibits international organizations that receive U.S. aid from using their own non-federal funds to advocate for safe and legal abortion care, perform legal abortions in their own countries, or counsel and refer women for abortions. This policy represents a true abandonment of America’s commitment to free speech and democratic principles.

Fortunately, President Obama rescinded the Global Gag Rule in his first few days in office, but just last week, anti-choice forces were at it again and this time, they raised the stakes even higher. On Thursday, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs approved the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, which would not only reinstate the gag but also expand it to include programs that provide HIV/AIDS assistance, which had previously been exempted from gag restrictions under George W. Bush.

The last time the Global Gag Rule was in place, it had truly harmful consequences, as clinics were forced to close, outreach programs were cut or eliminated, and contraceptive supplies dried up in many communities abroad. Adding to the damage is the fact that the policy’s on-again, off-again status creates funding instability for foreign organizations that are forced to either change their programs to comply with the gag when it is in place or risk losing their foreign aid. These organizations cannot truly meet the reproductive health needs of the people they hope to serve if funding is tied to political whims.

Congress must ensure that the Global Gag Rule is not imposed again. We applaud Rep. Lowey for introducing the Global Democracy Promotion Act, a crucial step forward in ending this unjust policy that only punishes those who so need our help.

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