The ''Global Gag Rule''
The ''global gag rule'' is a policy of the United States government that
denies US family planning funding to foreign non-governmental organizations
that perform abortions, provide counselling and referral for abortion, or
lobby to make abortion legal or more widely available in their countries.
Officially known as the ''Mexico City Policy,'' it is nicknamed the ''gag
rule'' because it stifles free speech on abortion-related issues.  It was
reinstated by US President George W. Bush as soon as he was installed in
office in January 2001, and its reinstatement coincided with the
anniversary of the 1973 US Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision, which
legalized abortion in the country.
In 2003, the US administration declared that the gag rule would not apply
to funds used for fighting HIV and AIDS. However, recent reports indicate
that the exception has been reversed in a new $193 million program in
Women''s rights advocates have been pushing for a Millennium Development
Goal Fund that would address MDG-related issues of reproductive health and
gender empowerment.  The United States government, on the other hand,
sees calls for the protection of women''s reproductive health rights as a
veiled attempt to promote abortion and increase the procurement of
Putting Ideology First
The global gag rule highlights the age-old struggle between ideology and
reality. The US administration believes in promoting abstinence from sex
outside marriage, and opposes a woman''s right to choose to have an
abortion. Realists argue that abstinence before marriage is rare, and that
abortion will go on, regardless of laws allowing or outlawing it. Whether
or not the gag rule applies to programs on HIV and AIDS, on the ground, it
has had tremendous repercussions on efforts to tackle the pandemic. In
Kenya, two of the most prominent and impactful reproductive health care
providers, Marie Stopes International and the Family Planning Association
of Kenya (FPAK) lost US funding after refusing to submit to the
restrictions of the gag rul.  These restrictions included even
discussing the toll of illegal, unsafe and unregulated abortions. As a
result, they have had to close clinics that were a vital reproductive
health life line in economically deprived areas that are densely populated
and underserved. They have also had to lay off staff and keep a skeleton of
overworked and underpaid staff. Inevitably, the clinics, renowned for their
affordable fees, have had to raise their prices, further restricting access
by poor people to quality reproductive health care.
It is well-recognized that HIV/AIDS has a disproportionate toll on women
and girls. Family planning service providers play a crucial role in the
fight against HIV and AIDS in several ways :
- HIV/AIDS is a reproductive health issue. Seventy-five percent of all new
infections result from heterosexual transmission.
- Family planning service providers already target those who are most
vulnerable to infection, the youth and women, whose main, and often only,
entry point into the health system is through the services they provide.
- Family planning service providers are a primary source of contraceptives,
including condoms which are essential in tackling HIV and AIDS.
- There is a lot of stigma associated with stand-alone HIV/AIDS centres.
Family planning clinics are one-stop centres where women can access a wide
range of reproductive health services, including information on HIV and
- Most family planning clinics are also voluntary testing and counselling
(VCT) centres and provide valuable information on how to avoid high-risk
behaviour, and how to live positively with the virus or the full blown
- Many family planning service providers are able to penetrate areas that
are otherwise underserved by health care providers.
The global gag rule has disrupted the crucial HIV/AIDS intervention role of
FPAK, Marie Stopes and numerous other organizations. Just as it is
impossible to separate family planning services from efforts to fight HIV
and AIDS, it is impossible to separate family planning services from
abortion-related issues. When an anti-abortion muzzle is put on
reproductive health providers, all the other beneficial seivices that they
provide are eroded. Without adequate access to contraception and
reproductive health care and education, the rate of both safe and unsafe
abortions will increase. Most family planning centres also have to deal
with the after-effects of underground, unsafe abortions.
Pretending that the war against HIV/AIDS will be won when sex takes place
within the confines of marriage is counterproductive, and restricting
funding solely to organizations that promote the myth is lethal. It will
result in a waste of money and the victory of HIV and AIDS.
2. ''Global Gag Rule Expands'' Africa Focus Bulletin, November 28, 2005.
3. Okwemba Arthur ''Africa''s Push for Reproductive Rights Fund Rubs US the
4. Ibid 1
5. ''The Global Gag Rule and HIV/AIDS.''
Suggestions for how to help can be found at http://globalgagrule.org.