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Senate Votes In Favor of the World’s Women and Against the Global Gag Rule

On April 5 th , under the leadership of Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), the Senate voted 52-46 to adopt an amendment which would overturn the Global Gag Rule and, in doing so, stood against the restrictions of free speech that have been imposed on family planning organizations around the world.

The Global Gag Rule, also known as the Mexico City Policy, denies U.S. family planning aid to foreign health care providers who use funds from other sources-including their own governments-to offer legal abortions, provide counseling or referrals for legal abortion, or publicly support legal abortion within their own countries. The Global Gag Rule causes providers to choose between receiving desperately needed funds or maintaining the ability to provide patients with full and complete information and services.

The Boxer Amendment simply states that foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) cannot be denied funding solely because of the medical care, including counseling and referrals, that they provide with their own funds. The amendment also says that these organizations cannot be forced to give up U.S. funding in order to engage in free speech using their own money if these activities are legal in their own countries and would be legal in the United States.1

According to Brian Dixon, Director of Government Relations at Population Connection, the effects of the Global Gag Rule have been dramatic: "In countries throughout the developing world, health care providers have refused to sacrifice their rights or ignore their responsibilities to provide women with information about all of their legal options. In Kenya , clinics have closed leaving tens of thousands of poor people without the services they need. In Ethiopia , contraceptive supplies in some clinics have run out, leaving thousands of women at risk for an unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease. Indeed, rather than preventing abortion, the Global Gag Rule only makes unsafe abortion more likely because it cuts off funding for contraception."2

Several key Republicans joined all forty-four Democrats and the Senate’s lone Independent, Senator Jeffords (VT), in voting to adopt the amendment. The Republicans who broke ranks and voted against administration’s strong support of the Global Gag Rule were Senators Lincoln Chafee (RI), Susan Collins (ME), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Gordon Smith (OR), Olympia Snowe (ME), Arlen Specter (PA), Ted Stevens (AK), and John Warner (VA).

While the vote to adopt the amendment was a strong victory in the Senate and an enormous boost to the sexual and reproductive health and rights community, it is unlikely that the issue will go any further this year. There is little chance Congress will approve the Senate Foreign Aid Authorization Bill, which the amendment is a part of, this year. As in recent years, this bill is bogged down with numerous controversial issues. In addition, a similar move is expected to fail in the House and President Bush has threatened to veto any legislation that repeals the Global Gag Rule. Regardless, advocates see this vote as an important victory which will keep the debate going and help the issue remain alive in the minds of voters.

For more information about the Global Gag Rule, please visit:


1 Global Gag Rule: Basic Facts , Planetwire, (5 April 2005), accessed 11 April 2005, < >.

2 Population Connection, "Senate Votes to Overturn Global Gag Rule," Press Release published on 5 April 2005, accessed 11 April 2005, <
Publications/publication422.html >.