Most of us have long forgotten about the first days of President Bush’s first term. We’ve been so distracted by his abysmal record on foreign affairs from Afghanistan to Iraq to North Korea, that we now need to be reminded about one of his very first actions with international implications – the reinstatement of the Global Gag Rule in 2001.
The Global Gag Rule simply states that any non-governmental organizations receiving funding from the United States government and applying it to family planning services cannot provide, suggest, discuss or lobby for reform efforts regarding abortion in the countries in which they work. Participation in any of these activities is prohibited even if they do so with funds separate from those received from the United States. The effects of the policy have been devastating for women and children in developing countries.
Purportedly instated to reduce the number of abortions throughout the world, the Global Gag Rule was first instituted by President Reagan during the rise of social conservatism and the anti-choice movement in the 1980s. The Global Gag Rule stayed in effect through the presidency of George H. W. Bush, and was overturned by President Clinton in 1992, only to be reinstated in the first days of the second Bush reign. The impact of the policy reaches far beyond abortion, however, and is taking a toll on the quality and accessibility of reproductive healthcare abroad.
First, these restrictions put healthcare providers abroad in a difficult position. Those NGOs that accept U.S. funds must agree to terms that may endanger their patients’ health. By limiting what a doctor can say to a patient, the rule compromises the integrity of the healthcare he or she provides. On the other hand, NGOs that reject the terms are deprived of desperately needed funding. Those organizations are forced into cutting programs – leading to a whole host of problems, including reduced access to birth control services and HIV/AIDS education. In 2005, Ethiopia alone lost $56,000 worth of contraceptive supplies. In Ghana, 647,000 patients lost access to reproductive healthcare services. And in Cameroon, a youth center that provided HIV/AIDS prevention education and responsible parenthood education, was forced to shut down.
President Bush’s Gag Rule is intimately tied to his HIV/AIDS policy. While the Bush administration can be credited with the first comprehensive policy toward HIV/AIDS in Africa, the administration’s prevention education policy is based primarily on abstinence and monogamy, not safer sex. Often, however, monogamy doesn’t necessarily equate to less risk for exposure to HIV, as 60 to 80 percent of women in Sub-Saharan Africa living with the virus have been infected by their husbands – their sole partners. Meanwhile, condoms in some nations have become a precious commodity – hard to come by and expensive even when readily available.
Some members of Congress are outraged by the damaging impact of the Global Gag Rule, including our own Congresswoman Lois Capps. Capps co-sponsored the Global Democracy Promotion Act, which was written to overturn the Global Gag Rule and first introduced by Representative Nita Lowey of New York. As of yet, an anti-choice Congress has blocked the bill from passage.
Courtney Weaver is a senior political science and history of public policy major.