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Monday, September 10, 2007

US Senate: Voting to overturn the "GLOBAL GAG RULE"

Please find below an informative press statement from Population Action International regarding the US Senate Voting to Overturn the Mexico City Policy ('Global Gag Rule').

The 'Global Gag Rule' was reinstated by President George W. Bush in January 2001. It mandates that no U.S. family planning assistance can be provided to foreign NGOs that use funding from any other source to: perform in cases other than a threat to the woman's life, rape or incest; provide counselling and referral for abortion; or lobby to make abortion legal or more available in their country. The Gag Rule has had a detrimental impact on family planning and reproductive health services in developing countries around the world.

Please read below for information on what the new bill does, why it is important and issues of contraception and abstinence-only programming.

Overall, the bill is a big step forward, but the House version of the bill contains a much weaker provision and drew a veto from the Bush White House.

Kindest regards,

Michelle Rogers


Senate Votes to Overturn Destructive Global Health Policies on Contraceptives and HIV/AIDS; President Has Threatened a Veto

September 6, 2007

Despite President Bush's veto threat, today the Senate voted, as part of the FY 2008 State-Foreign Operations Appropriations bill, to overturn the Global Gag Rule and other destructive policies impeding U.S. family planning and HIV/AIDS assistance. The Senate foreign assistance bill already included key provisions identical to the House-passed bill (H.R. 2764) -- exempting contraceptives from the Global Gag Rule and repealing the abstinence-only funding restrictions for HIV prevention programs. However, by a vote of 53-41, the Senate went a step further and voted to repeal the Gag Rule entirely. As a result, the bill will help correct some of the most egregious and harmful aspects of U.S. international family planning and reproductive health policy.

Today's Senate vote marks the first time since the Global Gag Rule has been in force -- from 1984 to 1993 and again since 2001 -- that both the House and Senate have passed legislation to repeal or modify the restriction that has wreaked havoc on family planning efforts, especially in Africa. The Senate's stance is significant in light of the all-important showdown that looms with the White House over President Bush's threatened veto of the entire $34 billion foreign assistance bill because of the Gag Rule provisions.

*What the Bill Does:*

1. Overturns the Global Gag Rule (Mexico City Policy), an executive memorandum issued by President Bush upon taking office in January 2001. The restrictions were purportedly designed to reduce abortion by limiting a woman's access to abortion services, and to ensure that U.S. funding for family planning services overseas is completely separate from abortion activities. From 1984 to 1992 there was no evidence that the policy reduced abortion. There is no evidence that it is any different this time around. Instead, the gag rule is likely having the opposite effect: it has reduced access to contraception, leading to more unwanted and high-risk pregnancies, more unsafe abortions, and more maternal illness, injury, and death.

2. Expands access to contraceptives in poor, impoverished nations by providing a limited exemption from the Global Gag Rule solely for USAID-donated contraceptives.

3. Provides greater effectiveness and flexibility in the fight against HIV/AIDS by allowing the President to waive the restriction under PEPFAR(President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) that mandates at least one-third of U.S. HIV/AIDS prevention funding be limited to abstinence-until-marriage programs.

*Why This Is Important:*

Statement from Terri Bartlett, Vice President for Public Policy at Population Action International:

"Today the Senate joined the House of Representatives in sending a clear and strong message around the world. We are tired of talking about prevention and the needs of impoverished women and families, and then putting U.S. health assistance in a straight jacket. By voting to overturn the Global Gag Rule, expand access to contraceptives, and repeal rigid abstinence funding mandates, the Senate has brought common sense back to U.S. development assistance. Under the tremendous leadership of Chairman Leahy, the Senate has signaled to the world that the U.S. is ready to walk the walk.

The real winners today are the tens of millions of poor women overseas without basic reproductive health care that American women take for granted. The provisions included in today's bill will save tens of thousands of lives and improve the quality of life for countless women and families around the world. Contraceptives and condoms help prevent unintended pregnancy, unsafe abortion and HIV infection, and current U.S. policies that restrict their flow to women and couples make no sense. The American people overwhelmingly support family planning -- and they know that the real way to reduce abortion is to expand access to contraceptives to those who want them. It's really that simple."

*Global Gag Rule*

Since 1995, U.S. funding for international family planning programs has fallen more than $100 million -- a 41 percent reduction when adjusted for inflation -- despite a growing demand for contraceptives and reproductive health care in the developing world.

In addition to funding shortfalls, the imposition of the Global Gag Rule has had a devastating impact on family planning programs -- particularly in poor, developing nations. In Zambia alone, the sole NGO to operate reproductive health clinics in that country has lost nearly 40 percent of its staff members, scaled back services, and ended vital community-based distribution of contraceptive supplies and health information.

Population Action International produced a seven minute documentary that details the impact of the Global Gag Rule on reproductive health programs in Zambia, one of the poorest countries in Africa. At a time when one in five adults is infected with HIV and nearly 70 percent of the population is under the age of 24, the gag rule has deprived Zambia's primary family planning agency of critical U.S. assistance. The video can be viewed online and is part of "Access Denied: U.S.Restrictions on International Family Planning," a collection of materials produced by the Global Gag Rule Impact Project.

*Contraceptives Provision:*

A provision in the bill expands access to contraceptives in poor,impoverished nations by providing a limited exemption from the Global Gag Rule solely for USAID-donated contraceptives and condoms. It does not provide financial assistance of any kind to family planning organizations. It simply would allow organizations to get donations of contraceptives from USAID.

Since the Gag Rule was reinstated in 2001, shipments of contraceptives from the U.S. government have been stopped in 20 developing countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Leading indigenous family planning providers in several other countries have also stopped receiving contraceptives from the U.S.

Contraceptives help reduce abortion, HIV infection and other sexually transmitted infections, and save the lives of mothers and infants by reducing high-risk and unintended pregnancies.

Providing modern contraceptives to the 200 million women in the developing world who desire -- but lack access to -- this health care would avert 52 million unwanted pregnancies annually, preventing approximately 29 million abortions, 142,000 pregnancy-related deaths and 505,000 children from losing their mothers.

*Abstinence-Only Repeal:*

provision in the bill provides greater effectiveness and flexibility in the fight against HIV/AIDS by allowing the President to waive the restriction under PEPFAR that mandates at least one-third of HIV prevention funding be limited to abstinence-until-marriage programs.

This will allow U.S.-funded HIV/AIDS programs to better respond to the differing features of the epidemic in each country.

In 2006, there were 4.3 million new HIV infections. According to the WHO, unprotected heterosexual sex is the leading cause of HIV infections worldwide, representing 80 percent of new infections in sub-Saharan Africa.

Marriage is not a protective factor from contracting HIV/AIDS. Over the next ten years, more than 100 million girls in developing countries will be married before their 18th birthdays -- mostly to older men and against their will. These girls have significantly higher rates of HIV infection than their sexually active, unmarried peers.

According to two congressionally-mandated reviews from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Institute of Medicine (IOM) -- and countless experts in the field -- the abstinence restriction is detrimental to HIV/AIDS prevention efforts and should be eliminated.

*What's Next?*

The State-Foreign Operations Appropriations bill now proceeds to a conference committee where the House and Senate versions will be reconciled and sent to the President. Then the issue will turn to Bush's threatened veto of the entire $34 billion foreign assistance spending bill over the Global Gag Rule provisions. Will he reject an otherwise popular $34 billion bill over a common sense measure to expand access to contraceptives overseas -- contraceptives that actually help achieve the purported goal of the Gag Rule: reducing abortion?


ARROW is a regional women's NGO based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia committed to promoting and protecting women's health rights and needs, particularly in the areas of women's sexuality and reproductive health.