Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Hearing on legislation to overturn President Bush’s Family Planning ‘Gag’ Rule yesterday. Under the ‘gag’ rule, nongovernmental organizations in foreign nations receiving U.S funds for family planning programs cannot use their own money to provide abortion counseling, referrals, or lobby to change abortion law. Federal law has prohibited U.S. direct funding of abortions since 1973.
Susana Silva Galdos, president of Movimiento Manula Ramos, a Peruvian women’s rights advocacy group, had to receive special permission from the courts to speak about abortion at the hearing. Said, Galdos, The gag rule has taken away my freedom to speak about an important issue in my country — a serious issue that is about the life and death of women in Peru. A freedom that I had to ask a judge to give me back, temporarily, so that I could speak with you today.”
Without a share of the $425 million of USAID money, Family Planning Association of Nepal (FPAN) Director General Dr. Nirmal K. Bista fears that he may have to close one or all of his three clinics. “It is estimated that six women die everyday in Nepal due to unsafe abortions performed by unskilled providers. Under the conditions of the (‘gag’) policy we cannot engage in any advocacy effort to legalize abortion-even if it is with our non-U.S. money and at the behest of our own government,” said Dr. Bista.
Said Boxer, “I firmly believe that family planning organizations should not be prevented from using their own privately raised funds to provide legal abortion services, including counseling and referral services. And these groups should not be forced to relinguish their right to free speech in order to receive United States funding.”
Boxer is the only woman member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and has been leading the fight to overturn the gag rule in the Senate. The Committee is chaired by Joseph Biden (D-Delaware).