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Global Health: Obama Lifts “Global Gag Rule”

In his first week in office, U.S. President Barack Obama lifted a policy popularly known as the “Global Gag Rule.” The move is being applauded by women's rights and public health groups, as it will reinstate funding to international family planning programs globally.

The policy, also known as the Mexico City policy, bans U.S. government funding from going to overseas family planning groups and clinics that perform or promote abortion or lobby for its legalization. Obama lifted the ban one day after the 36th anniversary of Roe versus Wade, the case that legalized abortion in the U.S. The policy was created in 1984 and has been tossed back and forth between presidents ever since. A blog post on South-South elaborates:

“The Global Gag Rule [also known as the “Mexico City Policy” or specifically, The Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C. 2151b(f)(1))] denied United States family planning funds to foreign NGOs that use their own private, non-U.S. dollars to counsel women, make referrals for abortion, or perform abortions. It even denied U.S. funds to NGOs that expressed support for laws to make abortion safe and legal. The Global Gag Rule was in effect from 1985 until 1993, when it was rescinded by President Clinton. President George W. Bush reinstated the policy in 2001, where it was in effect until Friday, 23 January 2009.”

Critics have dubbed the ban the “Global Gag Rule” because of how it restricts groups overseas from participating in the abortion debate in their home countries. Texas in Africa points out that another problem with the policy is that its restrictions are too broad.

“The Global Gag Rule doesn't take a country's policies on abortion into account. Instead, it blocks funding from any organization that supports abortion rights anywhere in the world. That means if Planned Parenthood operates a clinic in rural Uganda that gives advice on family planning and provides prenatal screening, it loses funding when the Global Gag Rule is in effect because of its pro-choice stance on policies in the U.S. This happens regardless of the fact that abortion is illegal in Uganda unless it involves preserving the mother's life or health.

When the Bush administration reinstated the Global Gag Rule in 2001, clinics all over Africa lost all of their funding. In many places, especially in Kenya and Ghana, it meant that tens of thousands of people lost their only access to health care. Period.”

In light of this, many bloggers are praising Obama's move and the potential impact it will have on reproductive health and family planning issues worldwide. Danie, Danie, Danie believes we should be thanking Obama, while Arash Kardan blogs:

“Desperately poor women with high risk pregnancies won’t have to die because their doctor can’t tell them about termination options. Many will have more access to safe abortion care, and won’t die or face permanent injury due to risky do-it-yourself procedures. Women won’t have to get pregnant because their local birth control clinic had to choose between no funding or substandard, dishonest care, and subsequently closed down…This is what change can mean. Thousands of women’s lives saved. And after the past 8 years of this deadly policy, it’s about time.”

However, many anti-abortion groups have condemned the move, arguing, for instance, that U.S. taxpayer dollars shouldn't be spent supporting abortion and that this opens the door to more abortions worldwide. The Vatican has spoken out against Obama's decision, and the move has raised fears in some countries impacted by this funding. The blog Mike in Manila discusses the reaction in the Philippines:

“There are fears that now US funds will be released here in Asia as well to fund programs towards a global legalization of abortion. Some pro-Abortion groups have lobbied to tie in US Aid to legalization of abortion in the developing world.

A move that greatly concerns members of the CBCP [Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines] in the country who have called on Philippine-Americans of all faiths to signify their voices against the new executive order as well as for a campaign by them to elected members of the house and senate to be emailed and called by Catholics all over to world to ensure that the ‘pro-death and pro-abortion’ stance of the extreme left of American politics is not pushing to impose abortion supportive or legalization policies to the rest of the world.”

However, Nicholas, posting on Staying Left, Living and Driving in South Africa, points out that the choice to have an abortion isn't always clear cut in the countries that need this funding:

“When thinking about abortions, especially in developing countries, the arguments seem quite compelling. In sections of the KwaZulu Natal region of South Africa, up to 50% of pregnant women are HIV+. If my work were successful, we could reduce transmission of HIV from mother to baby into the single digits, instead of 30+% in most parts of the country. However, that means we'd have carefully execute a number of steps in a process without faltering. Given the fragility of the health system, the likelihood of passing HIV to the baby is quite high, and if I were the pregnant one, its not a roulette game I'd want to be playing.”


Image of The Abortion Debate by Better In the Basement on Flickr.

  • jacksmith

    I AM SO ANGRY!

    Tom Daschle, and Nancy Killefer are two of the finest, and most competent public servants you could possibly hope for in these appointments. They have been assassinated by the Washington healthcare lobby through their paid Bush Republican henchmen in congress. These Bush republicans are the same people blocking the economic recovery plan put forth by the Obama administration.

    I am BURNING MAD America. And you should be too. Tome Daschle and Nancy Killefer were exactly what we needed to help turn this country around and fix our economy, and catastrophic healthcare crisis.

    If I were their boss I would tell them to get right back to Washington. And dare congress to not approve them. How ridiculous is it to reject highly qualified people that this country needs just because they made a mistake on their taxes. Don’t stand for that anymore America. They apologized, and paid their taxes, and that should be it. Their country needs them. But President Obama has to do what he thinks is best. I understand that. I’M JUST SO MAD at the anti American Bush Republicans.

    Like many of you I have been trying to enjoy the after glow of this Beautiful historic election. But I see that the republicans in congress and their cohorts aren’t going to be good sports, and LOSER’S!

    SO BE IT!

    In spite of President Obama’s repeated offers, and gestures of collegiality to Republicans. Bush Republicans have seized upon every opportunity to stab President Obama in the back. And by doing so they are stabbing you, and the rest of the American people in the back. Well, you don’t have to put up with that. And you shouldn’t put up with that. President Obama has only been on the job two weeks. And he inherited two wars, and the worst economy since the great depression.

    We had an election. And president Obama, and the democrats won BIG. And Bush Republicans lost miserably!

    The Bush Republicans are the ones responsible for the worst economic crisis since the great depression. And the Bush Republicans are responsible for the worst healthcare crisis in American history. A healthcare crisis that is killing hundreds of thousands of you every year. Rich, middle class, and poor a like. Insured, and uninsured. Men, women, children, and babies.

    President Obama, and the Democrats should take back all the concessions they granted the Bush Republicans, and tell them to put up! or shut up!

    Everyone, start calling and contacting these Bush Republicans and tell them to stop blocking President Obama, and the Democrats recovery plan. And stop trying to block, and corrupt healthcare reform. Tell them to get on board with President Obama and the Democrats, or GET OUT!!

    If these Bush Republicans refuse to cooperate I want all of you to immediately begin the process of removing them from office by every legal means possible. Including impeachment, and recall. I want you to bring the full weight and power of the movement down on their heads that swept President Obama, and the Democrats into control of the whitehouse, and congress. Take no prisoners. Use all the techniques you learned over this past historic election. Be flexible, creative, adaptable, and relentless like you were in the past.

    To my cyber warriors I call on you again. You are among the best and the brightest. I call on you to move this fight from the cyber world to the living rooms, dens, and work places of the voters these Bush Republicans misrepresent. I know I can count on you. This is a fight worth fighting.

    To my fellow World citizens. As an American I invite, and welcome you and your advise, input, and help. By delaying Americas recovery, and healthcare reform, these Bush Republicans are delaying our commitment to your recovery, and to being the better America for you that we aspire too.

    I had hoped it would not come to this after our historic election. I had hoped that the Bush Republicans would respect the overpowering will of the people, and the World. But I guess not. All the Bush Republicans really care about is them-selves. Well, SO BE IT! Lets finish the job.

    Sincerely

    jacksmith — Working Class :-)

  • http://dave-lucas.blogspot.com/2008/11/mumbai-massacre.html Dave Lucas

    TRACKBACK: http://dave-lucas.blogspot.com/2009/02/obama-lifts-global-gag-rule.html

    Thank-you for bringing this story to the attention of all Global Voices readers worldwide!

  • Pingback: SCOUT BANANA» Blog Archive » The Week in African Health

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