On January 23, President Barack Obama rescinded the Mexico City Policy, also referred to as the “Global Gag Rule” (GGR). The policy was originally instated by President Reagan in 1984, reversed by President Clinton in 1993, and then reinstated by President George W. Bush in 2001. The GGR stipulates that U.S. foreign aid may not be granted to organizations that offer abortion services or make referrals for or counsel women about abortion.
The impact of this disastrous policy has been to deny millions of women in developing countries access to comprehensive reproductive health care, as well as access to even the most basic healthcare services because many reproductive health care centers were shuttered when the GGR caused funding to dry up. Several organizations, including those in Bangladesh, Benin, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Togo, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe, refused to adhere to the Gag Rule, preventing them from receiving access to funding for life-saving reproductive services and supplies.[i]
After making the decision to reverse the GGR, President Obama released a statement in which he asserted that, “the provisions of the Mexico City Policy are unnecessarily broad and unwarranted under current law, and for the past eight years, they have undermined efforts to promote safe and effective voluntary family planning in developing countries.”[ii] He also maintained that restoring such funding would “protect and empower women and promote global economic development” and called for an end to the “politicization” of international family planning assistance.[iii]
As could be expected, advocates and implementers working with and on behalf of those most affected by this overly burdensome policy had much to say upon learning that the GGR had been repealed. The International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) noted that the President’s decision “was greeted with a wave of relief and optimism in the developing world.”[iv] The restrictions imposed by the GGR had a chilling effect on other reproductive health services, “with NGOs too afraid to talk” about even HIV/AIDS prevention and contraception.[v]
Population Action International also applauded the President’s decision, saying that it would “help prevent unintended pregnancies, reduce abortions and, ultimately, save women’s lives around the world.”[vi]
Complementing the repeal of the GGR, President Obama also promised to reinstate U.S. funding to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which had been revoked under the Bush administration. The UNFPA is a leading organization campaigning for a women’s right to reproductive health care, including access to contraceptives, HIV/STI prevention and treatment, and care during pregnancy and childbirth.[vii] The UNFPA had been groundlessly accused by the Bush administration of cooperating with China on coerced abortions. The International Women’s Health Coalition also celebrated this move as a signal that Obama would “reestablish global U.S. leadership on women's health and human rights and our effective membership in the United Nations.”[viii]
The fact that Obama overturned the GGR and announced future cooperation with the UNFPA during the first week of his presidency is a likely indicator of more progressive international family planning policies under the present administration. Many of the organizations banned from receiving funding under the GGR provide essential reproductive health services—as well as a broader array of health care—to people living in the developing world. With family planning groups receiving the funding they need to deliver such services, the fight against HIV and STIs around the world will also be strengthened.
“Overturning the Global Gag rule is a great first step to restoring America’s moral leadership around the globe and putting evidence above ideology,” commented William Smith, SIECUS’ vice president for public policy. “Now, we must untie our international HIV/AIDS assistance from similar mischief and end the billion-dollar abstinence-only-until-marriage industry built by the previous administration at home as well as abroad,” continued Smith.
[i] “Obama’s step forward,” International Planned Parenthood Federation.
[ii] “Statement released after the President rescinds ‘Mexico City Policy’,” The White House Blog, (24 January 2009), accessed 13 February 2009, http://www.whitehouse.gov/statement-released-after-the-president-rescinds/.
[iv] “Obama’s step forward,” International Planned Parenthood Federation, (9 February 2009), accessed 13 February 2009, http://www.ippf.org/en/News/Intl+news/Obamas+step+forward.htm.
[vi] “PAI Applauds Obama for Repeal of Bush's Global Gag Rule, Helping Save Women's Lives,” Population Action International, (11 February 2009), accessed 13 February 2009, http://www.popact.org/Press_Room/Press_Releases/2009/gag_rule_rescinded.shtml.
[vii] “Obama’s Administration’s Swift Action on Women’s Health and Rights Sends Strong Signal,” International Women’s Health Coalition, (23 January 2009), accessed 13 February 2009, http://www.iwhc.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=3538&Itemid=599.