You may have heard that women’s health is at stake in the current congressional fight. But did you know that it’s not just U.S. women’s health that’s at stake? Global health is on the table in the as well.

Opponents of women’s health are trying to undermine international family planning programs by cutting funding for USAID and UNFPA, as well as pushing to reinstate the harmful global gag rule.

Also known as the Mexico City Policy, the global gag rule has played politics with women’s health and lives for over 30 years. While the Helms Amendment and other laws already restrict U.S. foreign assistance funding for abortions as a method of family planning, the global gag rule goes a step further to prevent any organization receiving U.S. international family planning funds from providing information, referrals, or services for legal abortion or advocating for access to abortion services in their country — even with the organization’s non-federal money.  

If you oppose this policy, you’re not alone.

In fact, the breadth of voices opposing its reinstatement is growing—this year, over 110 organizations strongly opposed any reinstatement of the global gag rule. It's a powerful spread of coalition partners that come from many issue areas — from domestic organizations to those working globally; organizations that focus on LGBT rights, human rights, health and development, HIV, and water aid; faith-based organizations; and those working to combat human trafficking. They’ve all aligned to stand up against seeing the global gag rule make a return. Opposition to the policy also crosses party lines, with Republican and Democratic members of Congress standing against it.

These groups share this view for a simple reason: The global gag rule is bad policy that undercuts our efforts to promote health and rights around the world. It’s bad enough that this harmful policy devastates the lives of women and girls abroad.  It also disrupts the work of health care providers on the ground, since it requires them to devote precious resources to either setting up or dismantling projects and personnel, depending on who is in the White House. In a time of fiscal constraint around the globe, U.S. policy effectively forces those with limited budgets abroad to waste precious resources that should be spent on lifesaving health care work. It also bears mention that the policy is anti-democratic, since it prevents citizens from freely participating in their own country’s democratic process as a condition of receiving U.S. funding.  And all of these communities have felt the impact of the global gag rule when it was in place — because when women’s health and rights are compromised, entire communities suffer.

In fact, just this year new research has demonstrated yet again the harm this policy has had when it was last in place. The study documented the global gag rule’s negative impact on access to modern contraceptives in Ghana, especially for women in rural communities who have fewer options. We know when women can’t get the contraceptives that work for them, unintended pregnancies increase, which leads to more unsafe abortion. For example, when it was last in effect, a leading community health organization in Ghana saw a 50 percent rise in women seeking treatment for complications from unsafe abortions .  

Pro-women's health members like Senate Minority Leader Reid (D-NV) and House Minority Leader Pelosi (D-CA) are standing strong in the current budget negotiations to push back against harmful policies riders, including provisions that would block patients from accessing care at Planned Parenthood, and ensure adequate funding for women’s health programs at home and abroad.

But we are FAR from out of the woods.

Right now, Congress is negotiating final decisions about federal funding and policies for critical women's health programs. Those decisions will have a far reaching impact on the health and lives of women in the U.S. and around the world.

Getting it wrong could be disastrous. There is incredible momentum to expand family planning access globally have been going exceedingly well.  One example is Family Planning 2020, the global partnership supporting the rights of women and girls to freely decide whether and when to have children, which reported 77 million unintended pregnancies were averted, and 125,000 women’s and girls’ lives were saved in 2013 alone. This important work saving and improving lives could be severely undermined if the threat to reinstate the global gag rule is successful.

Congress has the power to cease the absurd, needless, and cruel back-and-forth maneuvering through:

  1. Defeating efforts to reinstate the global gag rule, and

  2. Permanently ending the global gag rule by passing the Global Democracy Promotion Act.  

Through these dual efforts, Congress can protect women’s health and democracy to ensure that women abroad get the family planning assistance they desperately need and deserve.

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