(Washington, DC,) - The House Foreign Affairs Committee should remove language that would reinstate the so-called "Global Gag Rule" from the draft Foreign Affairs Authorization Act for fiscal year 2012, Human Rights Watch said today. The "Gag Rule" would outlaw US funding to international groups that provide abortions, counsel women about abortion, or engage in advocacy for abortion rights, even if no US funds would be used for those purposes.
This policy, also known as the Mexico City Policy, existed as an executive order under the Bush and Reagan administrations. President Barack Obama repealed it his first week in office. The damaging policy restricted women's choices and promoted censorship in health clinics around the world - factors known to contribute to unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions, and maternal mortality. The committee began debating the bill on July 20, 2011.
"The Global Gag Rule has exacted a terrible cost in damage to the health of millions of women and the free speech rights of people around the world," said Meghan Rhoad, women's rights researcher at Human rights Watch. "It should be considered a shameful piece of past foreign policy, not a model for the future."
It is expected that an amendment may also be introduced to withdraw funding from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which provides life-saving maternal health care and basic reproductive health services to women around the world. In the past, funds have been withdrawn from the agency over rumors linking the organization to coercive abortions and involuntary sterilization in China.
A US State Department panel investigated the rumors in 2002 and found "no evidence that UNFPA has knowingly supported or participated in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization in the PRC." When UNFPA lost funding in the past, it estimated that the US contribution would have prevented 2 million unwanted pregnancies, nearly 800,000 induced abortions, 4,700 maternal deaths, nearly 60,000 cases of serious maternal illness, and over 77,000 infant and child deaths each year.