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Lifting the “Global Gag Rule” Once and For All

Lifting the “Global Gag Rule” Once and For All

Earlier this month, the Senate Appropriations Committee advanced an effort to repeal the “global gag rule,” which blocks all U.S. foreign aid to international family planning agencies that provide abortions or even mention abortion as an option for clients seeking health care. Formally known as the Mexico City Policy, the global gag rule has vast, harmful effects on women around the world who rely on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) for these services.

Thankfully, the global gag rule is not actually in effect right now, but that doesn’t make this month’s vote any less important. Since President Reagan enacted the rule in 1984, subsequent presidents have maintained, rescinded or re-instituted it along party lines: President Clinton rescinded it in January 1993, President George W. Bush re-instituted it in January 2001, and President Obama rescinded it again just three days after he took office in January 2009. As you can imagine, this frequent back-and-forth creates a confusing ebb and flow of funding streams for NGOs who rely on U.S. support for their work, meaning that even when the gag rule is not in effect, many of these organizations still cannot provide abortion referrals or services.

Enter the amendment on which the Senate committee voted earlier this month: introduced by Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), a vocal champion for women’s rights and reproductive health, the amendment proposed to lift the gag rule through the legislative process, instead of by executive action, thus making its repeal more permanent. The vote is an exciting change of pace for abortion rights legislation. Over the past few years, we’ve seen many restrictive abortion policies—and very few laws that expand abortion access—advance at both the state and federal levels. Though the amendment still has a long way to go before becoming law, it’s exciting to see a vote in support of abortion rights. At both the state and federal levels, support for and opposition to abortion access is often starkly divided by partisan lines. Yet, three Republican Senators—Sens. Collins (R-ME), Kirk (R-IL) and Murkowski (R-AK)—joined with committee Democrats voting to lift the gag rule, another promising sign that Senator Shaheen’s amendment could gain traction.

In addition to lifting the global gag rule, the amendment would restore $600 million in funding for international contraceptive services, which supports agencies like the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Research by the Guttmacher Institute indicates that the UNFPA alone provides family planning services to 28 million women globally, helping to prevent 6 million unintended pregnancies, 2.4 million induced abortions (most in unsafe conditions), and 12,000 maternal deaths. Allowing international health clinics to offer comprehensive services would enhance the efficacy and efficiency of their work, providing critical care to women around the world.

As Reform Jews, we believe firmly in a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions and to have safe, legal and affordable access to health care. As our tradition teaches women to care for their own health and well-being above all else, we must continue to fight to ensure that women across the globe have safe, legal and affordable access to all health care services.

While we advocate to repeal the global gag rule for women around the world, we also are active in ensuring that these rights are not limited at home. You can take action here to urge your Members of Congress to oppose a federal ban on abortions after 20 weeks of gestation. This bill will prohibit abortions after 20 weeks of gestation, with very few exceptions for life of the mother and rape or incest when reported to legal authorities. The bill severely limits a woman’s autonomy over her own body, and refuses her the ability to make decisions according to her own beliefs and conscience.