As a new President has been elected in the US, you might hear campaigners in sexual health talk about ‘The Global Gag Rule’. But what is it and why does it matter to people working in sex and relationship education?
These activities include providing abortion care directly. But it also includes referring pregnant people to abortion services, simply providing them with information about abortion, or campaigning around legal reform in this area.
So NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations) that want to receive US funding are effectively ‘gagged’ from working in abortion care – hence the name.
This policy was originally called The Mexico City Policy and was first introduced by the then President Reagan in 1984. Under the Mexico City Policy, the ‘gag’ applies to all of the work that an NGO does. For example, an organisation cannot use funds from another source to fund work in abortion care.
How big a deal is this? Well the US provides a huge amount funding to overseas NGOs. The US can be a major source of funding for NGOs. The Global Gag forces them to balance the importance of abortion care with the need for financial stability.
In addition to this, US culture and political ideology is hugely influential around the world. This is true, even if you are living in a high income country which doesn’t rely on overseas funding from foreign powers, like the UK.
The US position on abortion care is really important right now, at a time when some countries are rolling back on abortion laws – for example in Poland.
Remember, the WHO (World Health Organisation) recognises that abortions are both incredibly common and also continue to take place where they are not legally allowed – but in unsafe conditions.
So why are we talking about the Global Gag Rule at this particular time? Well, since it was first introduced this policy has been removed and reintroduced several times. There has been a pattern of Presidents from the Democratic Party to overturn the Global Gag Rule, and for it to be reinstated the next time a Republican President gets in to power.
The outgoing US (Republican) President – Donald Trump – is noted to have reinstated the Global Gag Rule. In fact, some people say that his version of the Mexico City Policy made it even more restrictive – for example by making it apply to all of the global health assistance funding, not just that set aside for family planning.
Many people hope that new US President will, as the pattern has been, remove the Global Gag Rule and allow NGOs to be supported in providing essential health care. At the time of writing this, there is an international petition to call on him to do just this.