by Michelle Chen
Friday, August 5 2011
While Congress was playing fiscal roulette last month, House Republicans quietly advanced their attack on reproductive choice, too. Conservative legislators are working to reinstate the so-called Global Gag Rule, which would block international aid to organizations that provide abortion-related information and services in other countries. Exporting their domestic anti-abortion agenda to the Global South, conservatives seek to hold international family planning programs hostage to America’s culture wars.
The proposed policy, part of a larger bill funding the State Department, is based on a Bush administration executive order that President Obama repealed. Under the previous gag rule, overseas organizations receiving U.S. family-planning funds were not allowed to provide abortion-related care or counseling, to help women avoid unsafe abortions, or to advocate on abortion issues. In addition to damaging women’s health, the policy undermined political dialogue on providing comprehensive family planning in aid-dependent countries. The bill passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee last month.
But the new gag rule would go beyond previous executive orders (Bush’s policy was a reinstatement of Ronald Reagan’s “Mexico City Policy,” which Bill Clinton rescinded) by codifying an expanded version of the restrictions in federal law.
Ellen Marshall, a foreign policy consultant with the International Women’s Health Coalition, said the political forces driving the gag rule were
completely irresponsible in [their attempt] to block contraceptive and other sexual and reproductive health services for women, including services that prevent the need for abortion—all in the name of ending abortion. Doubly troubling is their willingness to stomp all over people’s right to speech and to participate in public and political dialogue in their own countries, as a condition for receiving U.S. assistance.
On top of the gag-rule revival, House Republicans are also attacking family-planning funding overall, by trying to kill U.S. support for the United Nations Population Fund.
The federal budget doesn’t account for the grim mathematics of this global reproductive health crisis. The Guttmacher Institute estimates that every $10 million that is cut from international family planning and reproductive health aid means “610,000 fewer women and couples would receive contraceptive services and supplies, 190,000 more unintended pregnancies, and 82,000 more unplanned births.” Ultimately, reports the Huffington Post, the “pro-life” family-planning cuts proposed by the GOP would lead to roughly 7,700 maternal deaths and leave about 35,000 more children without mothers.