In the wake of new House attempts to reinstate the Global Gag Rule, Rep. Nita Lowey and more than 103 other Members of Congress today introduced the Global Democracy Promotion Act, a bill to ensure that the US government doesn’t put more restrictions on health care providers that provide needed services for women and young people. More than 60 organizations join in applauding the introduction of the bill – and are committed to moving it through the policy process.
While US foreign assistance is, among other things, intended to promote democracy, the Global Gag Rule, a Reagan-era policy reinstated by both President Bushes runs counter to that goal – and also puts women’s health at risk. The Global Gag Rule requires that in exchange for U.S. assistance to provide contraception and other family planning services, foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) must withhold information from women about legal abortion as an option and where to obtain safe abortion services – even though they are legal activities undertaken with their own non-US government funds.
This policy stifles free speech and prevents medical professionals from offering the full range of legal, medically acceptable options to women. It is contrary to U.S. law and would be held unconstitutional if imposed on U.S.-based organizations. Additionally, the groups cannot engage in any public debate or disseminate any information regarding the health hazards of unsafe abortion, express support for any existing laws that support safe abortion, or provide legal abortion services with non-U.S. funding.
The Global Democracy Promotion Act is a legislative response to a policy decision that is undemocratic, un-American and easily reinstated with the stroke of a pen by a future president. It establishes a standard that the United States will not impose restrictions on organizations outside its borders that it would not be able to impose on organizations within our borders. The legislation would allow funding for organizations that use their own non-US government funding to provide safe abortion referral, information, and services that are legal in their own country and also legal in ours. The bill will end the punishment of health care providers that observe the same standards of medical ethics and seek the same freedom of speech that apply in the United States.
While the Global Gag Rule isn’t currently in effect (Obama overturned it when he first came into office), when it was in effect there were very real impacts, and the back and forth of it being in place and then not by changing Administrations is a poor foreign assistance strategy that leaves health care providers in a quandary. One example of the negative impact was in Peru, the Movimenta Manuela Ramos agreed to the policy for a program they run called ReproSalud (Reproductive Health). The program is designed to engage local women from poor communities across the country to identify their most pressing reproductive health needs. Manuela Ramos convenes the discussions and then works with the Ministry of Health to develop specific responses to those needs. In many communities, women identify unsafe abortion as their most pressing problem. The gag rule, however, prohibits Manuela Ramos from engaging in discussions about ways to reduce illegal, unsafe abortion.
Some House members are dedicated to trying to do the opposite of what this bill is and write the global gag rule into law. No doubt their efforts will continue – as will ours. The principled position of those supporting the Global Democracy Promotion Act creates growing support by policy makers, the advocacy community and citizens across the globe.