Led by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), a champion for women’s rights, the Senate passed an amendment to a foreign aid bill on Tuesday to overturn the Global Gag Rule. The amendment, sponsored by Sen. Boxer and Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), was passed 52-46, with eight Republican Senators joining the Democrats. Reuters reports that the US Senate has repeatedly rejected the dangerous and restrictive policy since it was first imposed by the Reagan Administration in 1984. Though President Clinton rescinded the policy for the eight years of his presidency, President George W. Bush issued an executive order to reinstate the Global Gag rule during his first official day in office in January 2001. The Global Gag Rule is a harmful US foreign policy that bars family planning programs receiving US international aid from using their own monies from separate sources for abortion counseling, advocacy, and referrals.
President Bush has threatened to veto the bill if it passes, Reuters reports, although the House of Representatives have yet to take up its version of the foreign aid bill. According to the Associated Press, it is unlikely that the bill, which would authorize $34 billion in State Department and foreign aid spending, will pass. No such foreign aid bill has passed since 1985, which results in actual foreign aid to be authorized through separate appropriations bills.
The Global Gag Rule is “desperately injuring the poorest women in developing nations,” said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority. Under this policy, international family planning programs are forced either to lose a large percentage of their operating funds, or to discontinue services formerly paid for by private dollars, including gynecological exams, AIDS prevention and treatment, and contraception. US funding represents a significant portion of the budgets of many international nongovernmental organizations that provide essential health care to women in the developing nations. In many rural areas, these organizations are the only source of gynecological health care available.
Every year, according to the World Health Organization, over 80,000 women and girls die as a result of unsafe abortion. “The Global Gag Rule is causing gross suffering and needless deaths,” said Smeal. “The Global Gag Rule makes a farce of the President’s pledge of a ‘culture of life.'”
The Feminist Majority and leading women’s rights and health advocates have urged President Bush to repeal the Global Gag Rule since it was reinstated.