Gagging the Gag Rule for Good

In three years, one of the most volatile on-and-off-again relationships in American history will celebrate its 30th anniversary: that of the Global Gag Rule and U.S. global policy. But if Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) can convince her Senate colleagues, the gag rule might not live to receive its pearls.

The rule (also known as the Mexico City Policy) was instated through executive order by President Ronald Reagan in 1984, prohibiting NGOs who depend on U.S. international family planning funding from providing information about abortion services; referring patients to safe, clean, legal facilities for abortions; or simply mentioning abortion services, even as an option in countries where abortions are legal. It has been estimated to have led to the deaths of thousands of women who sought illegal, unsafe abortions because that was the only choice they had.

Sen. Boxer, along with Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and fifteen other colleagues, has reintroduced the Global Democracy Promotion Act to permanently repeal the Global Gag Rule, preventing future executive orders from reinstating it. This permanence is needed because the gag rule is a political football, rescinded by President Bill Clinton, reinstated by President George W. Bush, repealed again by President Barack Obama and now up for both reinstatement and permanent repeal.

Sen. Boxer has pointed out that,

If the Global Gag Rule were applied in the United States, it would violate the First Amendment because it restricts what organizations can do or say with their own funds. Ending this undemocratic policy is long overdue.

Permanently ending the Global Gag Rule would save NGOs the heartbreak of choosing between accepting American family planning assistance under draconian anti-abortion restrictions or limiting vital services, cutting staff and ultimately closing clinics. It would also save women’s lives.

 Photo from flickr user World Can’t Wait under Creative Commons 2.0


  1. I commend Senator Boxer for yet again pushing for the permanent repeal of the Global Gag Rule and the Ms. Magazine Blog for covering the story. According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 47,000 women died in 2008 as a result of unsafe abortion1. There is no doubt that the Global Gag Rule contributed to these deaths by restricting access to safe abortion and family planning services for those women who needed it most.

    For those of us growing up in the U.S. in the years following Roe vs. Wade we have never had to experience first-hand what it is like to lack access to legal, safe abortion. Because we did not have to fight for the right to safe abortion it is easy for us to take it for granted. But we must not forget that that right is threatened both in the U.S. and abroad. Until we permanently repeal the gag rule, the back and forth game will continue with every incoming Republican president reinstating the gag rule and infringing upon the right to safe, legal abortion for women all over the world. We cannot allow this heinous policy to be reinstated; we must pass the Global Democracy Promotion Act and put it to rest for good.

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