President George W. Bush reinstated the global gag rule on his first official day in office, January 22, 2001, the 28th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Pro-choice groups and legislators reacted almost immediately not only with anger and fear for the women who would be affected by the policy, but with strategies to reverse it. The gag rule prohibits family planning programs outside the U.S. who receive US funds from using private, separate monies to counsel abortions, and threatens removal of much-needed funding for a whole range of reproductive and women’s health services.
At a February retreat for Democratic House members, Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) accused Bush of using a double standard, reinstating the global gag rule and then allowing religious organizations to perform social services, not religious ones, using government money with his proposed “faith-based” social services program. European Union leaders also criticized Bush’s decision to reinstate the global gag rule, saying that supporting the work of programs like the UN Fund for Population Activities and International Planned Parenthood Federation was paramount.
Pro-choice women in US Congress– both Democrat and Republican–quickly set to work on parallel bills that would overturn Bush’s Executive Order. Introduced to the Senate by Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and to the House of Representatives by Barbara Lee (D-CA), the legislation stipulated that foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) could not be denied funding based on the medical services they provide, including counseling and referral services. In addition, foreign NGOs, as a condition of eligibility for U.S. development assistance, need not sacrifice their right to use their own funds to engage in free speech and assembly activities any more than U.S. based groups are asked to do.
The House version of the bill was approved by the International Relations Committee in May, 2001, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved its version, the Global Democracy Protection Act of 2001, in early August that same year. Unfortunately, while the Senate is expected to pass the bill this fall, the Republican-controlled House has demonstrated opposition to this legislation, and President Bush has vowed to veto the bill if it passes in both Houses of Congress. The strong support the bill has received does suggest a “growing opposition to this president’s radical views on family planning they need to be highlighted,” noted Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA).