Family planning advocates in the United States and overseas applauded the Europeans’ decision.
The European position “will send out a clear moral message to the whole world that certain governments feel strongly about the vast unmet sexual and reproductive health needs in the world,” said Hannah Pandian, spokesperson for the London-based International Planned Parenthood Federation, in a telephone interview. “I only hope that that moral message is taken seriously.”
The global gag rule is officially known as the Mexico City Policy. President Ronald Reagan initiated the policy at a population conference in Mexico City in 1984. It was rescinded by President Clinton in 1993.
Under this policy, in order for non-U.S. family planning organizations to receive family planning funds from the United States Agency for International Development, they must certify that they will not perform abortions, promote abortion services or lobby for change of their nation’s abortion laws, even with their own funds. Two other U.S. laws bar overseas agencies from using U.S. funds for performing abortions.
The agency did not return calls asking whether many groups were changing their policies and practices in order to return funds. Some have announced they might reject the funding altogether.
U.S. Has Banned All Funding for Overseas Abortions Since 1973
Funding for abortions has been banned since 1973 by Sen. Jesse Helms’ (R-N.C.) amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act. Furthermore, in 1974 the U.S. Agency for International Development proscribed funding for “information, education, training or communication programs that seek to promote abortion as a method of family planning.”
Many U.S. lawmakers also are indignant about the gag rule, noting that Americans are free to counsel about abortion and legally lobby for abortion law reform but, they argue, people in developing countries are denied the same free speech rights because the funding is conditional upon their silence about abortion.
Last week, a bipartisan bill, the “Global Democracy Promotion Act,” was introduced in the U.S. Senate to reverse or repeal the global gag rule–further evidence of the opposition that the Bush’s decision has encountered. It will be introduced in the House next week.
Today, about 50 million women worldwide seek abortion every year, and 20 million of these abortions are unsafe, resulting in the deaths of approximately 78,000 women, according to the International Planned Parenthood Federation. About 600,000 women die every year from the complications of pregnancy and childbirth, 98 percent of them in developing countries, according to the World Health Organization.
Advocates and European officials believe the global gag rule could actually increase the number of abortions worldwide – the opposite of the rule’s stated purpose. In his executive order, Bush said it is his “conviction that taxpayer funds should not be used to pay for abortions or advocate or actively promote abortion either here or abroad.”
The White House did not return telephone calls about the European Union’s plans to provide substitute funding.
Cuts Mean Reduced Funds for Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care