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The Policy That Never Dies: The Global Gag Rule


This policy lurks in the shadows, ready to be brought back to life by a future president hostile to family planning. Waiting to take a bite out of essential health services abroad. It’s the Global Gag Rule—also known as the Mexico City Policy—and it’s haunted international family planning for 30 years.

The Gag Rule denies foreign organizations receiving U.S. family planning and reproductive health assistance the right to use their own non-U.S. dollars to provide legal abortion services, counsel or refer for abortion, or advocate for the reform of restrictive abortion laws.

The Gag Rule was originally announced in August 1984 by a U.S. delegation to the International Conference on Population in Mexico City, appointed by President Ronald Reagan. It was later rescinded by President Clinton, reinstated by President Bush, and again rescinded under the Obama Administration. On every occasion, the policy has been revived or killed shortly after each president was inaugurated. The pattern is clear: this policy is a creature resurrected based on the partisan, political whims of Washington, and the only way to kill it is by driving a stake through its heart with a permanent legislative repeal.

When the Gag Rule has been in place, local organizations unwilling to abide by the policy lost all of their U.S. funding, technical assistance, and donated contraceptives. This meant women in a number of countries lost access to basic reproductive health care, particularly in remote communities not reached by their government or other non-governmental health organizations. Even when the Gag Rule is not in force, the political and uncertain nature of the policy has made some organizations reluctant to partner with other organizations who refuse to abide by the policy on principle, particularly when U.S. presidential elections approach. None of these providers want to have to close their doors, eliminate services, or risk the health of their patients. When the Global Gag Rule looms, organizations are faced with difficult choices that they should not have to make.

The good news is there is a way to send this zombie of a policy back to its grave. The Global Democracy Promotion Act, introduced in the 114th Congress by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), and Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) would end the Global Gag Rule for good. This legislation would finally give overseas organizations the assurance they need that they can receive U.S. funding for family planning and reproductive health services without being beholden to partisan games.

The Global Gag Rule is one of the five scariest policies on Capitol Hill for women worldwide. To meet the other four, check out the full Return to a Nightmare on Capitol Hill site.

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This blog has been resurrected and updated for Return to A Nightmare on Capitol Hill. The original was published by PAI on Oct. 27th, 2014. 

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