The Global Gag Rule: A Setback for Human Rights and Equality

The Global Gag Rule, reinstated in January 2017 by the United States, has not only reinforced already existing gender inequality, but has also infringed upon basic human rights.

The policy, which cuts US funding for nongovernmental organizations that provide information or services related to abortion, has created profoundly negative consequences for women’s global health, including increased levels of unsafe abortions and maternal mortality, closed health clinics and a lack of resources provided to families. The reinstatement of this policy has cut some $8.8 billion in federal funding, and health providers in vulnerable countries affected by this policy say that it is their “death sentence”.

Despite the pleas of human rights advocates, the Trump administration further expanded the ban on aid. In March 2019, secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, announced that funding cuts would no longer only apply to organizations directly engaged in abortion services or abortion rights advocacy, but also to organizations which fund or support other groups which provide or discuss abortion.

Women'S March, Marching, Women, Woman, Protest

            The consistent resurfacing of this issue is contingent upon the constant struggle between US Republican and Democratic politicians. The historical symbolism of this policy ensures that, with each shift in political power, the policy is either reinstated or repealed. It is no longer only used as a strategy to preserve US foreign-aid dollars, it is also used as a political statement, promoting an either a conservative or liberal ideology. 

Unfortunately for vulnerable countries around the globe, they are left to be the “guinea pigs” for whichever political party is in a position of power to make their statement. Already marginalized populations are affected most by this policy, specifically women in places likeKenya and Uganda. For example, in Uganda, women give birth to an average of five children– a fertility rate that is not uncommon in sub-Saharan Africa. These countries urgently need reproductive healthcare– clinics, support programs, family planning advice and a contraception revolution. Ultimately, women’s access to contraceptives goes hand-in-hand with the right of ‘choice’ and autonomy over one’s body. The contraceptive revolution in countries all over the globe has played a crucial role in improving women’s rights; and the women in countries impacted by the Global Gag Rule deserve these same rights – access to reproductive choice and ultimately, the right to one’s own body and contraceptive access.  

Countries like Uganda rely on foreign aid for vital health services; and if restrictions are placed upon the accessibility of these services, they have no choice but to oblige. Without the aid dollars provided by the US, millions of lives are at stake because the healthcare sector is particularly vulnerable. The phrase “money runs the world” perfectly explains the situation here: whoever has money has influence. In this case, the United States holds both.  

If a Global Gag Rule enforcement is dependent on which political party is in power, perhaps the solution to the problem is a simple shift in political power in the United States. But, even as I say this, I laugh, because this type of solution only furthers the issue. Certainly, I am not the first to suggest a “shift in political power” in the United States. Regardless, such a solution would only be temporary. Donald Trump has already taken a more extensive approach to the Global Gag Rule compared to previous administrations. From this, we can infer that the next reinstatement could potentially be even more extensive and dangerous than the current policy in place. 

Finding a real solution to this issue is similar to trying to find the solution to other major international development issues; solutions are usually complex and slow-moving. If other countries, those not enforcing the Global Gag Rule, were perhaps willing to provide more extensive foreign-aid funding, vulnerable countries would not have to restrict citizens from proper abortion and health services. Yet again, this solution is complicated and would require funding cuts in other departments. 

What ought to be considered more extensively, however, is how the African government is itself combatting this health crisis. In April 2001, head of states of African Union countries met and pledged to set a target of allocating at least 15% of their annual budget to improve the health sector. This pledge, known as the Abuja Declaration, has resulted in significant upward trends for many countries in this respect. Other countries, however, seem to be in a ‘stalemate’ of sorts. For the Sustainable Development Goals to be achieved by 2030 as projected, African governments ought to reconsider how their money allocations are impacting this crisis further – aside from the dollars provided through foreign aid. There are significant improvements that need to be made in this respect; and in order to prevent foreign-aid dependency, these countries need to mobilize, in unity, moving more aggressively towards meeting the goals put forth by the Abuja Declaration. 

            Being a woman in a society dominated by males, I worry when I see such tremendous setbacks in progress for equality. Progress requires momentum, but where there is progress, there are always complications; and the complications enforced through the Global Gag Rule and African government’s inconsistencies in achieving set-out goals could require decades of progress in order to recover the losses. Certainly, some men and even women might argue against women’s rights, perhaps due to cultural or religious reasons. The Global Gag Rule, however, is not an issue which should be addressed as a ‘moral’ one. It is an issue pertaining to inequality and human rights. 

            As such, addressing the issues caused by the Global Gag Rule requires unity and advocacy. If we speak out about injustices and act together, we can promote global health and equality for women all over the world. 

Anna Olchowec studies Political Science with a minor in Philosophy. Her areas of interest include gender and politics, poverty and inequality, environmental politics, and law and ethics. Her focus is on gender-based violence, inequalities and discrimination both within Canada and on an international level.