Why Overturning the Global Gag Rule is Not Enough

Though I’m really quite behind in posting about this article, now that we’ve had more than enough time to celebrate the overturning of the Global Gag Rule, it does seem like the perfect time to put up this post.

This AlterNet article reminds us that overturning the Global Gag Rule is not only the first in many steps that the U.S. needs to take to do our part in creating safe reproductive health care access around the world — it’s also only the first step in in ending the ban on U.S. funds going towards necessary care.

The ban on foreign aid for abortion is based on the government’s interpretation of the Helms Amendment, adopted in 1973.  The Helms Amendment states “No foreign assistance funds may be used to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions.”

The language of the ban is as peculiar as its implementation.  One might wonder, under what circumstances is abortion used as a “method of family planning?”  Abortion certainly isn’t family planning when a pregnancy threatens a woman’s physical or mental health or where the woman is a victim of sexual violence.  Under Helms, could USAID have a role in ensuring women’s access to safe, legal abortion under these circumstances?

In countries where abortion is legal under a broad set of conditions, the ban has meant that no U.S. assistance can help the government make services safer (for example, through training or equipment), or indeed to make safe abortion care available at all. In Nepal, where the government is working to implement the 2002 abortion law, USAID-funded training facilities and clinics dedicated to treating complications of unsafe abortion may not be used for safe abortion care. The government instead had to build new facilities or compromise quality of care by using less appropriate facilities.

U.S. administrations have applied the Helms language to effectively prohibit any use of foreign assistance funds for safe abortion care, but also to prevent dissemination of information about abortion or the purchase of equipment to treat abortion complications.  The prohibitions are applied equally to non-governmental organizations (NGOs), foreign governments and multi-lateral organizations (by contrast, the Global Gag Rule only applies to NGOs and dictates what they do with their own, non-USAID funding).

Read the whole article. Though the repeal of the Global Gag Rule was a much easier sell to the U.S. public because it doesn’t actually involve funding abortion, the Helms Amendment can be easily interpreted as just as damaging and deadly.

I’ve yet to hear of any campaigns being undertaken to attempt to repeal the Helms Amendment — or even interpret it, as the article suggests, to exclude certain more extreme cases that would actually free up a lot of funds.  Further, knowing how these things work, I personally think that we’re unlikely to see such a campaign with the Hyde Amendment also still firmly in place, domestically.  (And of course, both need to be overturned.)  But all the same, you can contact both your Representative and your Senators on your own.


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4 Responses to Why Overturning the Global Gag Rule is Not Enough

  1. Valerie says:

    Thank you. I have a lot of trouble explaining to my non-anarchist friends that even the most “change”-oriented presidents don’t really bring much change, just do glamorous surface work. This pretty much sums it up.

  2. AshKW says:

    Yes ma’am! Baby steps are good, but that’s all they are. There are larger battles to fight here.

  3. forchoice says:

    I agree that overturning the Global Gag Rule is not nearly enough in the fight to bring health care resources to all women. Both around the world and in this country, there is a dearth of information and access to family planning tools. Members of the pro-choice community elected President Obama largely based on his assertions that the backwards measures put in place by George W. Bush, such as the reimplementation of the Mexico City Policy and the HHS Refusal Regulations would be reversed. The President has yet to let us down, but there is still much work to be done. The family planning funds that were in the early versions of the Obama Stimulus Plan were jettisoned when Republican members used them as a sticking point in signing the Bill. The President has reassured us that future legislation will increase funding for lower income women to receive family planning assistance, and the pro-choice community must be vigilant to make that sure that these promises come to fruition.

  4. Pingback: Raise Your Voice to Remove the Global Gag « strength never power

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