This year, 585,000 women will die from pregnancy and childbirth complications– deaths that could be prevented through health care services available in the United States.
These figures are appalling, but even more appalling is that the U.S., the world’s leader in medical innovation, is playing a role in these deaths.
Through a policy known as the Global Gag Rule, reinstated by Pres. Bush in 2001 as his first official act, foreign organizations are forced to choose between vital U.S. government support and their responsibility to provide reproductive health care to the world’s poorest women.
Many health clinics have had no choice but to drastically limit their services to stay open. The world’s poorest women are suffering as a result.
Last month marked the third anniversary of the reinstatement of the Global Gag Rule and the 31st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the case that recognized the constitutional basis for the right-to-choose.
The Global Gag Rule forces foreign organizations that receive U.S. aid to withhold information about the full range of reproductive health services, which includes abortion, to their patients. With its blind insistence that health clinics comply with the Gag Rule or lose funding, the Bush Administration is deciding the fate of women’s health and economic opportunities based on political ideology instead of scientific and medical reason.
A common misconception that the Bush Administration has tried to perpetuate is that the Global Gag Rule stops U.S. money from being spent on abortions. The U.S. Government has long prohibited its dollars from being spent on abortions.
The real effect of the Gag Rule is to prohibit non-governmental organizations that receive U.S. money from using other funds to provide information on abortion or abortion services, or to lobby their own governments on abortion. By gagging recipients of U.S. funding about abortion, the Global Gag Rule tramples on one of the United States’ most deeply held values – the right to free speech and to petition one’s government. Ironically, although the Gag Rule claims to be limiting abortions overseas, it actually increases the number of unsafe abortions by failing to provide sufficient contraceptive services and by limiting access to safe abortions in countries where they are legal.
Due to its principled refusal to accept the Global Gag Rule’s restrictions, the International Planned Parenthood Federation/ Western Hemisphere Region has sacrificed more than $12 million in funding. Meanwhile, thousands of women worldwide die each day from pregnancy and childbirth complications.
Many of these deaths could be prevented by lifting the Gag Rule and making routine reproductive health services more available worldwide.
It’s been three years since President Bush reinstated the Global Gag Rule, first put into place by the Reagan Administration and repealed by President Clinton. We need to intensify the public’s outcry over the harmful effects of this policy.
The Gag Rule stands between the world’s poorest women and reproductive health services. Improving women’s reproductive rights is the next step in emancipation for all women and strengthening development worldwide, and must be a top priority for any compassionate U.S. government.
IPPF/WHR is taking the global fight for sexual and reproductive health and freedom to the next level by organizing a grassroots campaign to improve the lives and health of women worldwide.
The recently launched www.FreeChoiceSavesLives.org campaign gives Americans outraged by the destructive impacts of the Global Gag Rule the opportunity to send a letter to Pres. Bush asking him to help protect women’s lives by removing this rule.
The status of women – their education, access to health care and reproductive rights – are the measure of a country’s health and stability. Rather than support the aspirations of women around the world to control their own lives by providing thorough and accurate health care information, Pres. Bush is standing between the world’s poorest women and reproductive health.
Concerned Americans must do their part – it’s time to reject the political ideology that is devastating women’s lives and speak up for women’s rights.
Dr. Carmen Barroso is the new Regional Director of IPPF/WHR. She has a PhD. in Social Psychology from Columbia University, and was a post-doctoral scholar in the Population Department of Cornell University.
Alexander Sanger, chair of IPPF/WHR’s International Planned Parenthood Council, is a longtime leader in the reproductive rights movement. Alex is the author of a new book, “Beyond Choice: Reproductive Freedom in the 21st Century.”