Yesterday, Congresswoman Nita Lowey introduced the Global Democracy Promotion Act of 2011, a bill that would permanently repeal the Global Gag Rule (GGR), a policy that has been applied and revoked via executive order at each change in the White House, beginning with Ronald Reagan and leading most recently to repeal by President Obama in 2009.
The GGR prohibits international health care providers from receiving U.S. international assistance for family planning if those organizations use other (non-US) funding to provide abortion counseling, referrals, or services, or seek to change laws regarding abortion care in countries in which abortion is a leading cause of death among women ages 15 to 49. Access to contraception and to family planning counseling and information helps [people] and their partners to plan the number and spacing of children they want to have and to avoid unintended pregnancies that lead to abortion. As such, by denying U.S. international assistance to groups that also provide safe, legal abortion, the GGR actually increases the number of abortions, rather than reducing them.
These facts notwithstanding, as we reported last week, House Republicans are seeking to enshrine the gag rule into law. First, the included it in the 2012 State Department Authorization bill which passed out of committee las week. This week, apparently not wanting to leave any doubt about their desire and intentions to undermine women’s health and rights to self-determination, House leadership also included language in the House FY2012 appropriations bill that would make the GGR permanent law. And just to be sure, leadership also included in that bill a ban on U.S. support for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and cuts to international family planning assistance. The bottom line of all these policies if passed would mean less support for family planning and more constraints on evidence-based programs, at a time when 215 million women worldwide want to plan their families but have no access to contraception, a set of conditions that again, will not reduce the number of abortions. This bill is expected to be marked up in committee today.
The GDPA would do the opposite, by ensuring under U.S. law that U.S.-funded international family planning programs would be free to deliver services based on public health and medical evidence and in a manner that promotes the basic health and rights of women. In countries where complications of unsafe and illegal abortions are leading killers of women ages 15 to 49, it is irresponsible to say the least to force medical practitioners to remain silent about these issues.