In the recent federal budget battle, there were fears that a Republican-controlled Congress would reinstate the so-called “global gag rule” which would ban funding to international organizations and agencies that perform or counsel women on abortion. But after a robust lobbying effort by advocates, supported by the Mailman School of Public Health of Public Health with dozens of women’s and health groups, the gag rule was defeated.
First introduced by President Ronald Reagan in 1984, the global gag rule has been rescinded under Democratic presidents and reinstated by Republican ones. In the years the global gag rule was in place, several organizations, led by Population Action International, documented its damaging impact on women’s health: the United States cut all funding to the United Nations Population Fund; NGOs lost American funding and technical support; healthcare providers were unable to provide comprehensive healthcare to their patients; and shipments of U.S.-donated condoms and contraceptives to 16 countries were halted.
For his part, President Obama repealed the policy in his first week in office back in January 2009. But this year, fears that the Republican-controlled Congress would reinstate the global gag rule in the federal budget sparked a fierce lobbying effort to prevent its inclusion. The Mailman School was among the 112 signatories on joint statement to Congress that concluded: “The U.S. should be a leader when it comes to promoting democracy, women’s health, and human rights around the world. U.S. foreign aid should never be used as a tool to limit women’s access to health care or to censor free speech. …We call on Congress to reject all efforts to again impose this policy on women around the world.”
The campaign was successful with members on both sides of the aisle. The final FY16 Omnibus bill, which President Obama signed into law this week, includes $607.5 million for international family planning programs and no mention of the harmful policy.
“It’s a significant victory for women and their families around the world,” says Dean Linda P. Fried. “The public health community came together to defend the basic human right to comprehensive reproductive health care, and we’re grateful that Congress did the right thing by leaving the global gag rule where it belongs—in the past.”