After a campaign where he barely mentioned the word abortion, President George W. Bush has immediately come out against women’s reproductive health rights with both fists swinging. During his first week in office, (and on the 28th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision), Bush reinstated the global “gag rule” which prohibits U.S. funds from going to international family planning organizations that use even non-US funds for abortion services or family planning counseling. These international family-planning groups are not allowed to even lobby their own governments on reproductive health matters, a mandate that would make the global “gag rule” unconstitutional in the United States.
Introduced in 1984 by Ronald Reagan at the Second International Conference on Population in Mexico City, the ruling was upheld by President George Bush (senior) and was finally rescinded by President Clinton in 1993.
While the ruling does not affect American women, Elizabeth Cavendish, legal director of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, warns that Bush’s move is not just a symbolic one. “This is a very real situation for the women in foreign countries who will be affected by Bush’s ruling,” says Cavendish. Women will no longer be able to get abortions at clinics that use U.S. funds, even if they pay for the abortions with their own money, nor will they be able to get information on abortion or referrals from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that receive U.S. funds. There are approximately 450 NGOs that have to abide by the “gag rule,” which will affect untold numbers of women seeking family planning information and services. About 585,000 women die from pregnancy or childbirth every year, and the World Health Organization estimates that many of these deaths are from botched and illegal abortions.
“This is part of a pattern for Bush. His appointment of John Ashcroft as Attorney General was the first sign that a Bush presidency will mean a roll-back in women’s rights,” says Cavendish. And the reinstatement of the “gag rule” is the second. “If the Bush presidency is like any other [Republican presidency], Senator Ashcroft will be helping Bush pick anti-choice judges and he will be helping Bush nominate Supreme Court justices who are anti-choice,” Cavendish continues. As the date nears for Ashcroft’s confirmation, Cavendish urges pro-choice individuals to realize exactly what a Bush presidency will mean for women. Says Cavendish, “women who spent the last eight years depending on Bill Clinton to keep the anti-choice legislators at bay must now be engaged in pro-choice activist organizations.” Pro-choice women will have to stay continuously aware and active in order to keep Roe v. Wade alive during the next four years.