Nightmare on Capitol Hill | Population Action International

For months, women in Latin America, the Caribbean and the United States, have been confronted with the terrifying threat of the Zika Virus. This mosquito borne and sexually transmitted infection poses a severe danger to those who are pregnant or may become pregnant, as it has been linked to a higher risk of miscarriage and may lead to Congenital Zika Virus Syndrome, the term used to refer to a number of birth defects including microcephaly, caused by the virus.

While international organizations like the WHO and many governments hurried to declare an international health emergency and prepared to fight back against the epidemic, one group remained invisible, the United States Congress. Republicans minimized the urgency of the crisis and delayed efforts to fund a response. When they did finally put forward a bill, the legislation was empty underneath its wrappings, limiting contraceptive access by preventing key providers, namely Planned Parenthood clinics in Puerto Rico, from being able to receive funds. Although funding for the Zika crisis ultimately passed without this restriction several months later, the total amount provided for the response is still $800 million short of what the White House requested and what top U.S. government health officials recommended, and fails to provide support for UNFPA, leading the multilateral reproductive health response in Zika-affected nations in Latin America and the Caribbean.

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Watch our video, 30 Years is Enough, to see the terrifying history of the Global Gag Rule.

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The Global Gag Rule has haunted women since it was first introduced by President Reagan in 1984. Broken down, the Gag Rule contains three equally terrifying principles restricting how overseas partners can spend their own money. First, it withholds U.S. family planning funding from foreign NGOs that perform abortions or counsel women regarding abortion. Second, the policy forbids NGOs that receive U.S. funding from advocating for the decriminalization or legalization of abortion in their countries. And if that wasn’t chilling enough, if a clinic is receiving U.S. funding, the Gag Rule forbids doctors from even referring women to another clinic where they could get a safe and legal abortion.

The Gag Rule has been killed by every Democratic president since Reagan, but it never stays gone for long. President Clinton disposed of it, but President Bush resurrected it immediately when he took office. President Obama then ended  it again when he took office. Some people might think this villainous policy has finally been put to rest — but we know better. The Gag Rule will almost inevitably rise from the grave again if a conservative Republican is elected president. Will this policy ever truly die? Only if Congress drives a stake through its heart by passing the Global Democracy Promotion Act (GDPA). The GDPA would finally repeal the Global Gag Rule for good.

The late Jesse Helms was the leading champion of the anti-choice movement in the Senate until his retirement in 2003. But he continues to control women’s bodies from beyond the grave through his namesake legislation, the Helms Amendment. Talk about spooky.

The Helms Amendment forbids spending U.S. foreign aid for abortion “as a method of family planning.” The administration currently interprets this hair-raising policy to be an outright ban on U.S. foreign assistance for abortion — including in cases where a woman needs an abortion because of rape or incest, or because her life is in danger. But it doesn’t have to be interpreted that way. More than 80 organizations ranging from family planning advocates, human rights groups, and faith based organizations, have joined together to make sure the most vulnerable women — those who need an abortion due to rape, incest, or because their lives are in danger — have access to safe abortion care.

Will you help us rein in this monster of a policy? Share this tweet if you agree Congress shouldn't play politics with the health and lives of women and girls.

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By day, this policy masquerades as an innocuous amendment to a routine spending bill, but by night it’s a horrifying ban on the use of federal funds to pay for abortions domestically. The Hyde Amendment is not a permanent law, but actually a “rider” that has been routinely attached to annual appropriations bills every year since 1976.

The impacts of abortion restrictions like the Hyde Amendment on women are ghastly. We know the Helms Amendment has prevented countless women abroad from accessing the reproductive health care they need, and the Hyde Amendment  does the same to women here at home. It’s been proven again and again that restricting abortion access does not drive down the number of abortions, it just makes them less safe.

Reading the details of this spending bill will surely evoke a blood-curdling scream. The House has put forward a spending bill that would cut nearly $146.5 million dollars from family planning programs, block a U.S. contribution to the UN Population Fund, and it would reinstate the Global Gag Rule. U.S. family planning funding is the lifeblood of many family planning clinics, and such a drastic funding cut could drain the life out of many clinics women rely on.

If passed, this terrifying proposal would be devastating for women around the world. Thankfully, family planning champions in the Senate have proposed their own spending bill, which proposes an increase in family planning funding. 225 million women want to prevent pregnancy, but aren’t using contraceptives. The last time the Global Gag Rule was in effect, many clinics had to scale back their services or close completely. This blood sucking spending bill would surely create more barriers for women to access contraceptives and reproductive care.

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