Earlier today, the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed an amendment that would restore and expand the so-called global gag rule, a provision that would prohibit foreign organizations receiving U.S. development assistance from using their own funds to perform abortions or provide women with information and referrals for the procedure. The rule, which unlike past variations does not even make exceptions for HIV/AIDS programs, was approved in a vote of 25-17, after the committee rejected an amendment by Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) stripping the language:
“The provision included in this bill is far more extreme than the Global Gag Rule policy that was implemented under Presidents Reagan, George Bush, or George W. Bush,” said Berman. “It bars ALL assistance to local health care providers in poor countries – including HIV/AIDS funding, water and sanitation, child survival, and education. In the name of ‘right to life,’ the majority is cutting off funds that are literally saving hundreds of thousands of lives.”
The gag rule was initially instituted by President Ronald Reagan in Mexico City in 1984, lifted by President Bill Clinton on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade in 1993, reinstated by President George W. Bush on his first working day in office in 2001 and then lifted again by President Barack Obama.
Conservatives argue that the policy reduces abortion by limiting a woman’s access to abortion services and ensures that taxpayer funding for family planning services overseas is separate from abortion activities. But in reality, the rule actually denies NGOs access to the very contraceptives that can help prevent the need for abortions in the first place. Under the Bush administration, USAID-supplied contraceptives were no longer being shipped to 16 developing countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, and the leading providers of family planning in 13 other developing nations were not receiving USAID contraceptives.
More than 200 million women in the developing world don’t have access to needed reproductive health care, while approximately 70,000 women die from unsafe abortion and at least 5 million more suffer serious injuries or disabilities.