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Global Gag Rule Report
Women's Electoral Politics
UN Women's Watch
Global Gag Rule
Martha Nussbaum
Women's Well-being

How the Global Gag Rule affects a Woman's right to choice.

The international United States policy affectionately called the "global gag rule" is a topic of high concern for Non-governmental organizations (NGO's) trying to provide medical care, family planning education, pre and post natal care, HIV/AIDS education and abortion options abroad. Traditionally the regulation is called the "Mexico City Policy, it was originally created and passed by President Ronald Reagan in 1984. Many people are not knowledgeable that in 1974 the Helms Amendment was the US regulation that originally made providing any abortion activities through USAID (US Agency for International Development) funds illegal. The Mexico City Policy stayed consistent through the Reagan administration and again through President George Bush's administration. The original rationale for the policy is the following, " agency's funding might be cut off from its contraceptive/family planning counseling services in one country if it had any abortion activity in the same or in another country. Reagan's rationale was that even if an agency involved in both family planning and abortion were given funding only for their family planning functions, that it would release funds within the organization for their abortion activity" (file:///C:/Documents%20and%20Settings/Owner/Desktop/religious%20tolerence.htm).

In 1993 President Clinton repelled the policy on his first day in office, again giving NGO's the opportunity to get USAID funding for family planning education efforts regardless of whether the organization advocated or provided abortions. During his presidency the Congress continued to try and bring the policy back and President Clinton vetoed the first attempt in 1995 and then the social conservatives slipped the policy in an annual spending bill in 1999 that was signed into law. Because of the upcoming election Clinton made a deal that the Mexico City Policy would expire at the end of his term so the next President could do what he/she would like with the Policy. With that in order, on his second day in office President George W. Bush signed the policy back into law.

This is a tremendously fought after policy because it stems from the heated debate about abortion in general. A press release on January 22, 2001 from the White house about President Bush's choice to sign the policy back into law stated that, "It is my conviction that taxpayer funds should not be used to pay for abortions or advocate or actively promote abortion, either here or abroad"( Unfortunately, President Bush had to eat his words and partially reside the Policy after promising billions of dollars to fight the AIDS crisis in Africa and the Caribbean. Opponents of the policy have argued for years that it was hindering the ability for organizations to educate about safe sex and HIV prevention but no one was listening until the crisis came back to bite them. President Bush was forced to partially reside his own policy in 2003.

An anonymous senior White House aide said: "Any agency that provides treatment for AIDS will get the money - as long as none of the funds are used for family planning purposes or for abortions - except in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is in danger" (file:///C:/Documents%20and%20Settings/Owner/Desktop/religious%20tolerence.htm). President Bush did get some heat from his biggest supporters for this decision. The editor of Covenant News, a Christian Conservative news source, stated, "This International Family Planning funding could very possibly make Republican G.W. Bush the biggest baby murderer in the history of the world" (file:///C:/Documents%20and%20Settings/Owner/Desktop/religious%20tolerence.htm).

It appears that opponents of the policy urge that US taxpayers should not pay for US organizations to pressure foreign countries to adopt less restrictive abortion laws. Unfortunately they are not aware that this policy does not only curb funding for organizations in countries where abortion is illegal but also the ones that have already made abortion legal. In those countries, like Ethiopia, Mexico and Nepal NGO's continue to not be able to provide safe abortions for women who desperately need them and already should have the choice for safe abortions under their law.
Nigerian Ipas Director, Ejike Oji, states, "U.S. citizens who have an unwanted pregnancy have safe choices to make. They can keep the pregnancy and can have good prenatal services and a safe delivery of their babies. If they choose to end the pregnancy, they have the option of a safe abortion, and they can get on with their lives and live them to the fullest. I cannot say the same for my wife, daughter, sister or my Nigerian countrywoman. They, more often than not, do not have information to make a choice of controlling their fertility. Neither do they have the opportunity in order to end a pregnancy safely. In some circumstances, they pay the supreme price in order to make that choice" (file:///C:/Documents%20and%20Settings/Owner/Desktop/news.asp.html).

Many US citizen's, particularly women, are unaware of this policy and very unfamiliar with its affects on women internationally. US funded NGO's willingly provide medical care and education to some of the poorest countries on earth and without them medical care is almost non-existent. Many European countries have tried to increase their funding to these organizations while the Mexico City Policy is in affect in the United States but their funding pales in comparison to what the United States could provide. It is a popular misconception that many countries are rejecting that providing women with a legal choice for abortion will increase the amount of abortions. In 2000 the Guttmacher Institute and the Centers for Disease Control reported that after the highest peak of abortions in 1980 the decline has hit its lowest rates since Roe v. Wade passed in 1973. And abortion rates before 1973 are extremely inaccurate because of the significant underground abortion movement. (

Nepal, for example has approved abortion for women up to 12 weeks in 2002 but many women still do not know that abortion is legal and are still resorting to illegal ways. The article reports that 45% of urban women and 50% of rural women still have not received information that abortion is legal in the country. "Many people don't know that abortion services are legal," confirmed Kasturi Malla, director of Kathmandu's Maternity Hospital, at Thursday's meeting. "This really has to be disseminated at the community level" (file:///C:/Documents%20and%20Settings/Owner/Desktop/news.asp.html).

Education is the basis for creating an environment in many countries where abortion may still be legal but very taboo. Also, women in these countries are lacking the education about family planning services to control pregnancy before it occurs. US NGO's are filling this void and providing much needed education that is currently being limited because of the United States inability to see beyond abortion as right or wrong and start thinking about abortion as a family planning option that requires education and understanding to truly utilize only when necessary.

If you are interested in learning more about the issues in this article please visit the following websites to educate yourself and your family on these issues.

mtappy/WMST 5050