The ‘Global Gag Rule’ Returns, Endangering the Lives of Women

Democratic and Republican administrations have waged an on-going seesaw battle over the funding of family planning and reproductive health programs in the developing world, with the Trump Administration firing the latest salvo by denying such funding.  Under the so- called “global gag rule”, U.S. funding for contraception and family planning programs for any NGO that provides information about abortion has been cut. The Global Gag rule was first enacted by President Reagan in 1984, and has been rescinded by each Democratic President, and reinstated by each Republican President.

But it is not just about access to abortion. More broadly, the Global Gag rule means reduced or no access to family planning services and information for many women in the developing world. With restricted or limited access to family planning and contraception, women will bear the brunt of Trump’s policy, with a lack of contraception options leading to an increase in the number unwanted pregnancies, increased risks to maternal and child health, and an increase in the number of unsafe abortions. In cases where legal abortion is not available, women may choose illegal abortions, increasing the risk of death or injury when faced with an unwanted pregnancy. Family- planning programs can also reduce fertility levels by helping with birth spacing, improving the odds of survival of mother and child, preventing unsafe abortions, and reducing the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. Studies have clearly shown that as use of family- planning methods increases, abortion rates decrease, and that increased funding of family- planning programs reduces abortion.

In response, a number of countries have stepped up and provided funding to support family planning programs, although funds raised are insufficient to offset the cuts.

Further Reading:

There are multiple references to the Global Gag rule and its implications in the popular press, as well as the academic press. A quick on-line search will offer multiple options.

Timothy King, Population Policies and Economic Development (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974).

Barbara Shane, “Family Planning Saves Lives, Prevents Abortion,” Population Today 25, no. 3 (March 1997): 1.

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