February 7, 2019

The International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC) welcomes the reintroduction of the Global Health, Empowerment, and Rights Act (Global HER Act) in the US Congress. The Global HER Act provides a crucial opportunity to permanently end the deadly Global Gag Rule, the policy that prohibits US funding to any foreign nongovernmental organization that provides, counsels, refers, or advocates for abortion services—even with non-US funds.

“It is past time to end the dangerous Global Gag Rule,” said IWHC Director of Advocacy and Policy Shannon Kowalski. “The Global HER Act would ensure that US global health assistance is grounded in evidence rather than anti-choice ideology, and would remove the US president’s power to restrict health care for millions of women with merely a signature.”

IWHC is documenting the impact of the Global Gag Rule alongside grantee partners in Kenya, Nepal, Nigeria, and South Africa. The findings reveal serious consequences for women and girls, including decreased access to vital health care services such as contraception, HIV testing, and cancer screenings.

In Nigeria, the executive director of a community based sexual and reproductive health organization explained to IWHC that the Global Gag Rule has led to an “increase in unintended pregnancies and HIV.” In South Africa, the executive director of a women-focused nonprofit argued that the policy “promotes unsafe abortions.” In Nepal, efforts to make contraception available to underserved communities were halted due to the Global Gag Rule. And in Kenya, reduced outreach services by Family Health Options Kenya—the country’s largest reproductive health organization—has resulted in decreased access to contraception, HIV testing, and other health services. Critically, these impacts are felt most by those who are poor, marginalized, and already struggle to access quality care.

In addition to the negative health impacts, the Global Gag Rule weakens civil society coalitions and fuels frustration about US interference in national health policies. The majority of countries that receive US global health assistance have national laws that allow abortion in at least once instance not permitted by the Global Gag Rule. By passing the Global HER Act, Congress can depoliticize US global health assistance and ensure that health care providers receive the resources to serve their communities.

The Global Gag Rule is just one way that the Trump administration exports its extreme ideology to restrict funding for sexual and reproductive health. The administration has also defunded the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)—the largest international provider of contraception, family planning, and other reproductive health services—and has attempted to cut funding for other global reproductive health programs. Together, these policies represent a direct attack on sexual and reproductive health and rights and threaten decades of global health progress.

Despite a polarized political climate, the Global HER Act has widespread support—77 percent of likely American voters believe the US has a moral obligation to advance women’s health worldwide, while 59 percent oppose the Global Gag Rule. IWHC calls on the US Congress to stand with the American people and protect women’s health by passing the Global HER Act.

Contact: Liza Kane-Hartnett; (+1) 917.498.3346

Photo: Jim Holmes for AusAID