“Religious Left’s” Wrong-Minded Appeal on Global Gag Rule


While the Global Gag Rule has become a favorite tool of the far-right to rally its base, their explanation of what it does it simply wrong.

Updated 6:10pm edt

Beliefnet’s Steven Waldman blogs about what he calls the "religious left’s" plea to President Obama not to repeal the Global Gag Rule. The plea needs a highlighter and red pen.

Waldman writes:

Pro-life Obama activists fully expect Obama to repeal the Mexico City "gag rule" — which prevents American dollars from going to groups that offer abortion services or advice. But some of them are urging the Obama administration Obama to delay action on that until he can put it in the context of a broader "abortion reduction" agenda. In other words, don’t make a big pro-choice move without also taking some abortion-reduction step.

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First of all, the religious left’s (which is not really left but quite centrist) simplistic explanation of what the Mexico City Policy or Global Gag Rule does is woefully inaccurate. In fact, the Global Gag Rule is an executive order first put in place by Ronald Reagan – even though we already had (and have) explicit laws banning the use of federal U.S. taxpayer funds from being used to fund abortion services abroad (or in the U.S. for that matter). As I have written before on this site:

The Global Gag Rule was originally put in place by President Reagan, by executive order, to deny funding to international family planning organizations unless they agreed to specific curtailments as set by the United States on the medical services and information
they provided to their patients. That is, health centers that operate
in developing nations to help women and men plan their families and
avoid unintended pregnancies, were told that they would not be allowed
to provide abortions (regardless of whether or not it is legal in their
country to do so), refer to abortion services, discuss
abortion as an option, or even so much as hang a poster that mentions
abortion without potentially being denied funds for the provision of
health services that have nothing to do with abortion.

So, to make that point one more time:

The Global Gag Rule is not about banning federal U.S. funds from being used to pay for abortion services abroad. We had and continue to have separate laws governing this. 

The Global Gag Rule is about imposing censorship (that is unconstitutional in this country) on U.S. family planning funded NGOs that provide critical health services in developing nations; services like the provision of contraceptive supplies, family planning counseling, HIV prevention tools, maternal health care and more.

As Jodi Jacobson writes on this site:

In countries like Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, imposition of the
global gag rule has meant the loss of critical funds for the
contraceptive supplies and services needed to prevent unintended
pregnancies in the first place.  In virtually every country with high
fertility rates, lack of access to contraceptives means women have more
children than they want or can afford.

If a woman comes to a clinic and is in need of a life or health saving abortion? The health center is censored from providing a referral or even telling her that is what she needs. If a woman has been raped and wants to ask about abortion as an option? Again, she’s out of luck.

What of international organizations like International Planned Parenthood Federation that operate health centers in different parts of the world – some that provide abortions and some that don’t? If they operate a non-abortion providing health center in a developing nation (and many do) they must keep their family planning funding separate. Again, they would be breaking the law should they use any U.S. taxpayer funds for abortion services. 

Furthermore, the assertion that President Obama needs to "delay" the repeal of this harmful policy until he can also do something that furthers "abortion reduction" is stunning in its misunderstanding of the rule.

The Global Gag Rule does nothing if not hampers efforts at abortion reduction. It doesn’t take much to  figure out that if you block funds to family planning organizations for family planning efforts and actual contraception provision, you are increasing the likelihood of women becoming pregnant with an unplanned pregnancy. This is usually what leads to abortion.

Further, the very idea of "abortion reduction" is one that seems to strangely separate women from their bodies and the life growing inside them. "Abortion reduction" on its own sounds to me like a failed concept – abortion reduction at what cost? Any cost? How is that different from any extreme anti-choice belief system? The goal is not abortion reduction – the goal is ensuring that women and girls lives and health are valued, respected, and cared for, that women’s status in society is elevated so that we become fully autonomous, equal members of society.  The natural result will be that more women will be able to prevent unplanned or unintended pregnancy if they desire, women will be able to plan for their children, women will be able to gain economic self-sufficiency in greater numbers, women will have more control over their health and lives. 

If the religious left wants simply to reduce abortion, there is no reason not to rely on the same, tired, anti-choice legislation and constitutional challenges to get us there. The Global Gag Rule was put in place to appease anti-choice voices, rescinded by President Clinton and signed again by President George W. Bush as a nod to the religious right again. President Obama understands that these nods or gestures are more than symbolic – they are harmful to women and global society’s efforts to grow and evolve.

While the Global Gag Rule has become a favorite tool of the far-right to rally its base, their explanation of what it does it simply wrong. The religious left is not helpful to anyone by perpetuating these false ideas. 

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