The 2019 Women Deliver Conference was the world’s largest conference on gender equality and the health, rights and wellbeing of girls and women in the 21st century. More than 6,000 world leaders, influencers, advocates, academics, activists and journalists convened in Vancouver this week to accelerate progress for girls and women everywhere. To celebrate, Ms. is posting updates from the front lines.
A new report released today at the Women Deliver 2019 Conference reveals that the Global Gag Rule is reducing the quality and availability of care, particularly for marginalized communities. Advocates, researchers and implementing partners discussed the findings from the International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC) at the 2019 Women Deliver Conference, detailing the effects of the expanded U.S. Global Gag Rule and a new evidence-gathering initiative by several partner organizations designed to increase access to safe abortion.
Revived by the Trump Administration in 2017, the Global Gag Rule, or Mexico City Policy, restricts U.S. global funding to any organization that advocates on abortion issues, provides abortions or refers patients to abortion services. Once limited to family planning programs, the expanded policy now applies to all $9 billion in U.S. global health funding—including the President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). In March of this year, the State Department announced an additional expansion of the restrictions, stating that the U.S. would reduce its contribution to the autonomous Organization of American States.
“This deadly policy violates the rights of patients and ties the hands of providers,” said IWHC President Françoise Girard. “After two years of implementation, the impact is clear: The Global Gag Rule reduces access to contraceptives and abortion care, leading to unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions, and preventable deaths.”
Since implementation began two years ago, IWHC and grantee partners in Kenya, Nepal, Nigeria and South Africa have conducted more than 170 interviews with individuals affected by the policy. The interviews reveal the devastating impact of the policy in these countries.
In Kenya, an organization that serves young women and sex workers was forced to stop providing abortion information and referrals; two of the organization’s clients died after resorting to unsafe methods to terminate their pregnancies. In Nepal, which has a progressive abortion law, it has forced the early closure of a U.S.-government supported project intended to increase access to contraceptives and other services in 11 remote districts. In South Africa, it has meant that a national sexuality education curriculum under development currently excludes any mention of abortion—even though the right to abortion is protected by the country’s constitution.
“The Global Gag Rule kills girls and women—plain and simple,” said Katja Iversen, President/CEO of Women Deliver. “We should be investing in girls and women, not investing in policies that threaten their lives. A woman’s ability to control her own body is foundational for her to reach her full potential. Expanding the reach of this harmful policy is wrong, dangerous, bad for gender equality and bad for the world.”
Alongside the launch of this report, a cross-partner coalition—led by Marie Stopes International, Ipas, International Planned Parenthood Federation, Population Services International and the Safe Abortion Action Fund—have launched SafeAccess, the first digital platform working to eliminate unsafe abortion by putting evidence-based guidance in the hands of frontline practitioners and policy makers.
A joint statement from the CEOs provided more background. “Our aim is simple: to share evidence-based, best practice guidance for implementers and policy makers on quality safe abortion and post-abortion care programming,” they declared. “As implementing organizations, we share our own lessons on what works, with the hope that those on the frontline can use these learnings to expand access to life-saving services.”