The Time to Lift the Global Gag Rule Is Now

Isaiah Ndong

While the Global Gag Rule was designed to reduce abortion, there's no evidence that it has. And the policy's domino effect has had negative effects on people's lives in ways that have nothing to do with abortion.

Over the last eight years, the impact of the Global Gag Rule has been harshest in parts of the world most in need of better health services. The policy forbids any foreign organization receiving U.S. family planning aid from providing, referring to, or advocating for abortion services in their country – even with their own funds, and even if abortion is legal. Organizations that do not comply lose all U.S. support, including essential supplies of contraceptives. 

I am a physician and was working with EngenderHealth in Ghana at the time that President Bush reinstated the policy during his first days in office. We felt the effects almost immediately, as the Global Gag Rule began to limit our reach as an organization. We could no longer work with local partners who put women’s health and the integrity of their medical staff above U.S. policy, even though they counted on us for support that made it possible for them to offer care in rural communities where no other health services were available. 

In Ghana, not only were supplies of contraceptives cut in half, but clinics were forced to shut down or drastically reduce their family planning, maternal and child health, and HIV services. And there is no evidence that that this policy has reduced abortion. Indeed, unsafe abortion remains among the leading causes of maternal deaths. 

So, while the Global Gag Rule was designed to reduce abortion, the policy’s domino effect has had negative effects on people’s lives in ways that have nothing to do with abortion. Because health clinics often offered integrated care, the loss in funding due to the Global Gag Rule has had dramatic consequences for services like immunizations for children, voluntary counseling and testing for HIV, and treatment for malaria. Throughout Africa, and in parts of Asia and Latin America, entire communities have seen their health care compromised by this policy.

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But we are at a turning point. President-elect Obama has the opportunity to repeal the Global Gag Rule, and we must put pressure on him to do so. No doubt there are a number of priorities that he must address immediately (the economy, two ongoing wars), but getting rid of the gag will cost nothing. Rather, it will be a symbolic move saying that the United States cares about women’s health and rights and about the rural poor.

I was in Tanzania at the time of the U.S. election, and I felt a great sense of excitement and expectation. Visiting a clinic where EngenderHealth had worked before the Global Gag Rule was reinstated – a clinic that has faced years of dwindling support and difficult times – I found the few remaining staff exuding optimism.

We believe that things will change now, that your president will understand how American policies directly affect us," the chief doctor told me. She, like many others, hope-some even pray-that the Global Gag Rule will be lifted, that their funding and main source for contraceptive supplies will be renewed, and that they will no longer have to turn away people who walk miles to their clinic for care. 

Indeed, as the United States reexamines its role in the world and the ways in which it can restore its image abroad, the value of eliminating the Global Gag Rule becomes very clear. In addition to affirming that the United States is committed to women’s health and rights, to global health and development, and to the principles of informed choice, the impact on "the street" would be significant. In rural communities across Africa, where the only clinic in an entire district may be one supported by the United States, people notice and are thankful. 

To be sure, there is much more to be done to ensure that every woman has access to high-quality reproductive and maternal health care, and funding increases are needed. The simple fact is that U.S. support for overseas family planning is lower today than it was in the mid-1990s, even though demand is higher and rising every day. But first things first: I hope you will join me in calling on President-elect Obama to lift the Global Gag Rule during his first 100 days in office. Visit to sign a petition asking for just that.

News Law and Policy

Anti-Choice Group: End Clinic ‘Bubble Zones’ for Chicago Abortion Patients

Michelle D. Anderson

Chicago officials in October 2009 passed the "bubble zone" ordinance with nearly two-thirds of the city aldermen in support.

An anti-choice group has announced plans to file a lawsuit and launch a public protest over Chicago’s nearly seven-year-old “bubble zone” ordinance for patients seeking care at local abortion clinics.

The Pro-Life Action League, an anti-choice group based in Chicago, announced on its website that its lawyers at the Thomas More Society would file the lawsuit this week.

City officials in October 2009 passed the ordinance with nearly two-thirds of the city aldermen in support. The law makes it illegal to come within eight feet of someone walking toward an abortion clinic once that person is within 50 feet of the entrance, if the person did not give their consent.

Those found violating the ordinance could be fined up to $500.

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Harassment of people seeking abortion care has been well documented. A 2013 survey from the National Abortion Federation found that 92 percent of providers had a patient entering their facility express personal safety concerns.

The ordinance targets people seeking to pass a leaflet or handbill or engaging in “oral protest, education, or counseling with such other person in the public way.” The regulation bans the use of force, threat of force and physical obstruction to intentionally injure, intimidate or interfere any person entering or leaving any hospital, medical clinic or health-care facility.

The Pro-Life Action League lamented on its website that the law makes it difficult for anti-choice sidewalk counselors “to reach abortion-bound mothers.” The group suggested that lawmakers created the ordinance to create confusion and that police have repeatedly violated counselors’ First Amendment rights.

“Chicago police have been misapplying it from Day One, and it’s caused endless problems for our faithful sidewalk counselors,” the group said.

The League said it would protest and hold a press conference outside of the Planned Parenthood clinic in the city’s Old Town neighborhood.

Julie Lynn, a Planned Parenthood of Illinois spokesperson, told Rewire in an email that the health-care provider is preparing for the protest.

“We plan to have volunteer escorts at the health center to make sure all patients have safe access to the entrance,” Lynn said.

The anti-choice group has suggested that its lawsuit would be successful because of a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled a similar law in Massachusetts unconstitutional.

Pam Sutherland, vice president of public policy and education for Planned Parenthood of Illinois, told the Chicago Tribune back then that the health-care provider expected the city’s bubble zone to be challenged following the 2014 decision.

But in an effort to avoid legal challenges, Chicago city officials had based its bubble zone law on a Colorado law that created an eight-foot no-approach zone within 100 feet of all health-care facilities, according to the Tribune. Sidewalk counselor Leila Hill and others challenged that Colorado law, but the U.S. Supreme Court upheld it in 2000.

News Health Systems

The Crackdown on L.A.’s Fake Clinics Is Working

Nicole Knight

"Why did we take those steps? Because every day is a day where some number of women could potentially be misinformed about [their] reproductive options," Feuer said. "And therefore every day is a day that a woman's health could be jeopardized."

Three Los Angeles area fake clinics, which were warned last month they were breaking a new state reproductive transparency law, are now in compliance, the city attorney announced Thursday.

Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer said in a press briefing that two of the fake clinics, also known as crisis pregnancy centers, began complying with the law after his office issued notices of violation last month. But it wasn’t until this week, when Feuer’s office threatened court action against the third facility, that it agreed to display the reproductive health information that the law requires.

“Why did we take those steps? Because every day is a day where some number of women could potentially be misinformed about [their] reproductive options,” Feuer said. “And therefore every day is a day that a woman’s health could be jeopardized.”

The facilities, two unlicensed and one licensed fake clinic, are Harbor Pregnancy Help CenterLos Angeles Pregnancy Services, and Pregnancy Counseling Center.

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Feuer said the lawsuit could have carried fines of up to $2,500 each day the facility continued to break the law.

The Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency (FACT) Act requires the state’s licensed pregnancy-related centers to display a brief statement with a number to call for access to free and low-cost birth control and abortion care. Unlicensed centers must disclose that they are not medical facilities.

Feuer’s office in May launched a campaign to crack down on violators of the law. His action marked a sharp contrast to some jurisdictions, which are reportedly taking a wait-and-see approach as fake clinics’ challenges to the law wind through the courts.

Federal and state courts have denied requests to temporarily block the law, although appeals are pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Some 25 fake clinics operate in Los Angeles County, according to a representative of NARAL Pro-Choice California, though firm numbers are hard to come by. Feuer initially issued notices to six Los Angeles area fake clinics in May. Following an investigation, his office warned three clinics last month that they’re breaking the law.

Those three clinics are now complying, Feuer told reporters Thursday. Feuer said his office is still determining whether another fake clinic, Avenues Pregnancy Clinic, is complying with the law.

Fake clinic owners and staffers have slammed the FACT Act, saying they’d rather shut down than refer clients to services they find “morally and ethically objectionable.”

“If you’re a pro-life organization, you’re offering free healthcare to women so the women have a choice other than abortion,” said Matt Bowman, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents several Los Angeles fake clinics fighting the law in court.

Asked why the clinics have agreed to comply, Bowman reiterated an earlier statement, saying the FACT Act violates his clients’ free speech rights. Forcing faith-based clinics to “communicate messages or promote ideas they disagree with, especially on life-and-death issues like abortion,” violates their “core beliefs,” Bowman said.

Reports of deceit by 91 percent of fake clinics surveyed by NARAL Pro-Choice California helped spur the passage of the FACT Act last October. Until recently, Googling “abortion clinic” might turn up results for a fake clinic that discourages abortion care.

“Put yourself in the position of a young woman who is going to one of these centers … and she comes into this center and she is less than fully informed … of what her choices are,” Feuer said Thursday. “In that state of mind, is she going to make the kind of choice that you’d want your loved one to make?

Rewire last month visited Lost Angeles area fake clinics that are abiding by the FACT Act. Claris Health in West Los Angeles includes the reproductive notice with patient intake forms, while Open Arms Pregnancy Center in the San Fernando Valley has posted the notice in the waiting room.

“To us, it’s a non-issue,” Debi Harvey, the center’s executive director, told Rewire. “We don’t provide abortion, we’re an abortion-alternative organization, we’re very clear on that. But we educate on all options.”


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