January 28, 2021

The International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC) welcomes President Biden’s presidential memorandum to rescind the Global Gag Rule and rejoin global efforts to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights as an important first step to secure bodily autonomy worldwide.

“We commend President Biden for taking executive action to end the deadly Global Gag Rule, enabling health care providers worldwide to provide honest information and comprehensive services,” said Nina Besser Doorley, IWHC’s associate director for advocacy and policy. “We urge the administration to ensure that USAID and US missions worldwide immediately communicate this information to their communities and provide guidance on current US policy. Ending the Global Gag Rule through executive action, while necessary, is not sufficient. To advance sexual and reproductive health and rights and truly mitigate the harms of the policy, a permanent, legislative repeal—through the Global HER Act, which is set to be introduced in the House today—must be a priority for the new Congress.”

The Global Gag Rule prohibits US global health funding to foreign nongovernmental organizations that provide information, referrals, or services for legal abortion or advocate for the legalization of abortion—forcing NGOs and health providers to choose between receiving critical US global health funds or offering honest, comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care. Though implemented by all Republican presidents since President Reagan, the Trump administration expanded the policy from applying to family planning funding—approximately $600 million annually—to all global health spending, about $9 billion. In practice, this applies to funding for maternal and child health, nutrition, HIV, tuberculosis, malaria, and more. In May 2019, the Trump administration again expanded the policy, re-interpreting it to apply to sub-recipients of US global health spending, requiring foreign NGOs that receive US global health assistance to certify that its grantees also comply with the policy.

Since 2017, IWHC has worked with partners in Kenya, Nepal, Nigeria, and South Africa to document the policy’s impact. The evidence is clear: the Global Gag Rule reduces access to critical health services—including abortion, contraception, and HIV/AIDS testing and treatment—fractures health systems, ruptures civil society partnerships, undermines national health strategies, and leads to preventable deaths. Evidence has also shown that the impacts of the policy last long after it has been rescinded, underlining the urgency of passing the Global HER Act for a permanent repeal.

In addition to rescinding the Global Gag Rule, the memorandum makes great strides by directing the Department of Health and Human Services to reconsider its domestic counterpart. Imposed by the Trump administration, the Domestic Gag Rule attaches abortion-related restrictions on US organizations that receive federal Title X funding.

“President Biden’s actions have been a crucial start, but much work remains to ensure that people in the US and globally can access comprehensive sexual and reproductive health information and services, and exercise their human rights. IWHC urges the Biden administration to move beyond the status quo and toward a framework of reproductive and gender justice,” added Besser Doorley.

President Biden’s executive order is just the first step in enacting US policies that respect human rights, advance global health, and ensure bodily autonomy. While we celebrate these initial steps, particularly the rescinding of the Global Gag Rule, IWHC urges the Biden administration to make a strong statement in support of abortion rights, outlining a bold and progressive policy to protect and advance abortion access worldwide, as outlined in the Blueprint for Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice. Specifically, IWHC will hold the Biden administration accountable for:

  • Supporting legislation, like the Global HER Act, to permanently end the Global Gag Rule.
  • Ending the Helms Amendment and other restrictions on abortion in US foreign assistance.
  • Directing the FDA to revisit restrictions of mifepristone, and ending other restrictions on self-managed abortion. Though safer than Viagra, mifepristone is subjected to outdated, burdensome, and ideologically driven restrictions that require in-person dispensing of the drug under the Risk Evaluation Mitigation Strategy (REMS).
  • Reengaging in global, multilateral spaces committing to using negotiations to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights.

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

Photo: TICAH