"Women are dying." This was the sobering truth repeated at last Wednesday's hearing before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on the Global Gag Rule (Mexico City policy)-the first hearing of its kind in the last decade. And while many on the Republican-side of the aisle didn't want to hear it, three witnesses testified to just how much the U.S. has contributed to the problem. Women are dying because the U.S. Global Gag Rule is preventing them from getting the reproductive health care and supplies they desperately need to prevent unwanted pregnancies.
This hearing was a long-overdue opportunity for Congress to better understand the real-life, destructive consequences of the Gag Rule on women and children. Members of the committee heard first-hand how a decline in family planning services – due to the Gag Rule — is increasing unwanted pregnancies, abortions and maternal mortality. Witnesses testifying at the heavily attended hearing included Duff Gillespie, PhD,former Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Global Health Bureau at USAID and current PAI Board member; Ejike Oji, MD, Country Director for Ipas-Nigeria; and Joana Nerquaye-Tetteh, PhD,former Executive Director, Planned Parenthood Association of Ghana.
"The Global Gag Rule exacerbates the situation in Nigeria whereby women have no choice about how to manage their own lives. That is what makes me so angry, because at the end of the day it is our women-our wives, daughters, and sisters-who are dying," Dr. Oji testified. The Global Gag Rule prevents USAID from working with organizations that can most effectively increase use of family planning-largely through rural distribution. This is an incredibly dangerous gamble in Nigeria where nearly one-third of women say they have had an unwanted pregnancy and half of those have attempted an abortion.
I had the privilege of spending a few days with the Committee's witness from Ghana, Joana Nerquaye-Tetteh. She speaks with the authority needed to command the attention of policy makers and set the record straight when challenged, as she often was, by the Minority. According to Dr. Nerquaye-Tetteh, as a result of this U.S. policy access to family planning was significantly reduced and the number of unintended pregnancies and new sexually transmitted infections both increased. Immediately following the imposition of the Gag Rule, and PPAG's refusal to sign the policy, they saw a 50% increase in the number of women seeking post-abortion services.
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While some supporters of the policy tried to make the case that family planning is not harmed by the Global Gag Rule, this is simply false. As Chairman Lantos stated in his opening remarks, "While the Global Gag Rule is being promoted as anti-abortion, it remains at its core anti-family planning." By preventing funding from going to the organizations where they can be most effective on the ground, the Gag Rule is the roadblock keeping life-saving reproductive health care and supplies from women in need.
Our longtime champion of international family planning and Chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State- Foreign Operations, Nita Lowey, made a special appearance at the hearing testifying the Global Gag Rule "is unconstitutional, immoral, unsubstantiated and dangerous."
The hearing was especially well-timed as President Bush threatens to make good on his promise to veto the entire Fiscal Year 2008 foreign assistance spending bill over a provision that exempts contraceptives from the Gag Rule's restrictions. I know I join many of you in asking the President to stop playing politics with women's lives and repeal the Gag Rule.