Let's Repeal The Global Gag Rule With The Much-Needed Global Democracy Promotion Act, Right Now

In 1984, President Ronald Reagan instated the "Global Gag Rule," a policy that bars foreign non-government organizations that receive U.S. assistance from providing information on family planning methods — everything from contraception to abortion — even with their own funding. The policy has been a long-held immovable block for both foreign and homegrown reproductive rights activists until President Obama lifted the onerous ban in 2009. On Monday, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) led a bipartisan group of 16 senators, six of whom are women, in introducing the Global Democracy Promotion Act as a way to ensure that the policy will never be reinstated.

The legislation would permanently repeal the Global Gag Rule, allowing these foreign NGOs to qualify for U.S. aid while using their own funds to promote and provide information on family planning services, including abortion.

Boxer says in a statement sent to Bustle on Monday:

If the Global Gag Rule were applied in the United States, it would violate the First Amendment because it restricts what organizations can do or say with their own funds. Ending this undemocratic policy is long overdue.

The senators' move comes at a crucial time: Although Obama lifted the ban his first week in the White House, the Global Gag Rule has been written back into a House appropriations bill for the 2015 fiscal year. The proposed bill, championed by Republicans in Congress, includes a restoration of the Global Gag Rule, cutting off women and men overseas from receiving information on comprehensive reproductive health services. It's another deceptive move by Republican Congress members to sneak abortion rights onto the legislative chopping block.

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To be clear, Boxer's Global Democracy Promotion Act won't allow U.S. funding to be used on abortion procedures overseas. The Helms Amendment — which is backed by the Obama administration, to many reproductive health advocates dismay — already bars foreign assistance funds for abortion procedures and abortion counseling as a "method of family planning." However, the amendment has been interpreted by the federal government to prohibit abortion funding in all circumstances, including rape, incest and when a woman's life is at risk.

So, what's so important about the Global Gag Rule? Reproductive health advocates say the policy has not only detrimentally politicized reproductive health, but has also endangered the health of women and children in various corners of the world. And, ironically, it hasn't really reduced the rate of abortions, even though that was the policy's intention when it was drafted in the 1980s.

According to Engender Health, which has been tracking the impact of the Global Gag Rule in several foreign nations, the ban has affected HIV and AIDS patients, new mothers, and the health of young children. Of course, access to contraception greatly suffered, especially in nations with an already great lack of reproductive health resources.

For example, the Family Planning Association of Nepal (FPAN), active since 1959, lost $100,000 a year in U.S. aid when the Global Gag Rule was first enacted, resulting in the layoffs of 60 clinic staff members, including doctors. In 2001, Nepal ended up losing its mobile clinics, which provided contraception and sterilization for women in remote areas, according to Engender Health researchers. The country also saw its stock of contraceptives significantly deplete.

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Nepal is just one of dozens of countries impacted by the Global Gag Rule. Population Action International, a reproductive health organization, has found that after the policy was reinstated in 2001, 16 developing nations were cut off from receiving their contraception shipments from the United States. Family planning providers and doctors in another 16 countries also lost their access to contraception — even condoms, which are crucial for HIV prevention.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, more than 220 million women living in developing nations in 2012 could greatly benefit from family planning services. However, the growing concern is women in the world's poorest countries, where 73 percent of these 220 million reside. Guttmacher researchers estimated that there would be 26 million fewer abortions and 21 million unplanned births if the contraceptive needs of women in developing, poor nations were met.

Critics of Obama have expressed their disappointment that the president didn't work to permanently repeal the Global Gag Rule when he had a majority in both chambers of Congress. The policy is usually at the mercy of the party of the president, with Republicans such as Reagan and George W. Bush ensuring foreign nations would have limited access to contraception, abortion and HIV prevention. Although Republicans control Congress now, Boxer and her 16 fellow senators believe now is the time to eradicate the reproductive health ban once and for all.

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