Suing Bush for His Global Gag Rule

A court hearing has not been scheduled yet in the case of the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy (CRLP) v. George W. Bush, but Janet Benshoof, president of the CRLP says, “Oh, we’re gonna win.” The CRLP filed suit against Bush on June 6, 2001, for censoring the speech of U.S. citizens with the Global Gag Rule. Many people know that this policy restricts the rights of foreign nongovernmental organizations that receive U.S. aid by forbidding them to use their own money to speak about abortion law reform. But what many people do not realize is that it also restricts the rights of U.S. organizations like the CRLP. Before the gag rule was put into effect, the CRLP was able to freely distribute and exchange information with foreign partners that supported abortion rights. But because of Bush’s policy, their partners who receive U.S. aid are gagged, and the work of the U.S.-based, nongovernment funded CRLP has effectively ended.

“Bush took away my right to speak because I support a position with which he disagrees: that access to safe and legal abortion is a human right of women worldwide,” said Benshoof. “The Global Gag Rule is global censorship that violates fairness, freedom, and democracy.”

The gag rule is not new news. President Ronald Reagan imposed the order in 1984, keeping people in countries like Mexico, Nepal, and Zimbabwe in their place by not allowing U.S. funded organizations to openly discuss or support abortion, even in countries where the procedure is legal. President Clinton’s 1999 version of the rule, which gagged both pro-choice and pro-life viewpoints, seems almost democratic in the face of Bush’s reincarnation of the Reagan original that just says no to choice.

The CRLP cannot organize conferences and rallies, disseminate factual information, or engage in public discussions about abortion in foreign countries, and that silence increases the risks to women’s health. About 78,000 women die every year from unsafe abortions, and without access to information, that number may never decrease. Gagged organizations often are not even comfortable providing services like life-saving abortions and post-abortion care (permitted under the terms of the gag rule) because of the fear of being associated with abortion and losing U.S. aid.

Unlike past cases, which have focused on the free speech claims of foreign organizations, the CRLP lawsuit has standing in the U.S. court system. The reproductive rights organization is currently in the briefing stage with the Southern District of New York in the U.S. District Court, and hopes to file the lawsuit soon.

Laura Katzive, staff attorney for CRLP argues, “With the Global Gag Rule, the U.S. Government is imposing laws on people who are not constituents and who cannot hold President Bush accountable politically. The Bush administration also assumes that American women and advocates will remain silent because they think the Global Gag Rule doesn’t affect them. They’re wrong.”

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