What Supporting the Global Gag Rule Means…in Theory and Practice

News from the US Presidential election today:

Mitt Romney today said no abortion legislation is part of his agenda, but he would prohibit federally-funded international nonprofits from providing abortions in other countries.

“There’s no legislation with regards to abortion that I’m familiar with that would become part of my agenda,” the GOP presidential candidate told The Des Moines Register’s editorial board during a meeting today before his campaign rally at a Van Meter farm.

But by executive order, not by legislation, he would reinstate the so-called Mexico City policy that bans U.S. foreign aid dollars from being used to do abortions, he said.

President Barack Obama dropped the policy on his tenth day in office, Romney said.

Romney has said he opposes abortion, except in instances of rape, incest and when the mother’s life is threatened.

Here’s what means in theory. (Via the Guttmacher Institute)

The gag rule came about as Reagan administration officials prepared a position paper for the 1984 United Nations international conference on population in Mexico City. The Helms amendment, which had passed in 1973 in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, already banned the use of U.S. funds under the Foreign Assistance Act from paying “for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning.” Under pressure from its antiabortion and increasingly overt anti–family planning constituency, Reagan officials agreed to go far beyond that with an administrative policy—one they could impose without the involvement of Congress.

The so-called Mexico City policy disqualified foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) from eligibility for U.S. family planning assistance if they used other, non-U.S. funds to provide abortion services or information in the form of counseling or referrals, or to engage in advocacy within their own countries to liberalize abortion-related laws or policies. (For political and diplomatic reasons, foreign governments were exempt, as were U.S.-based NGOs on constitutional grounds. Moreover, advocacy aimed at restricting abortion was deemed permissible under the policy.) In the early 1990s, opponents of the policy relabeled it the global gag rule because it targeted speech, and because of its similarity to the gag rule that Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush sought to impose on the domestic family planning program in the late 1980s (which was formally withdrawn by President Clinton).

And here’s what that means in practice:

When Josephine was 29, she, like many of the estimated 1.8 million other women and girls who were raped during the Congo’s series of conflicts, became pregnant…Josephine carried her baby to term and raised him. It wasn’t what she wanted. She wanted an abortion, but didn’t know where to get one, despite the many health services NGOs that operated in and around Congo. “In the community, they made such fun of me that I had to leave the village and live in the forest,” she told Amnesty International. “Today, the only thing that I can think about is that I want an abortion. I am hungry; I have no clothes and no soap. I don’t have any money to pay for medical care. It would be better if I died with the baby in my womb.” Unfortunately, Josephine’s story is not unique. Thousands of girls and women raped and impregnated in armed conflict are routinely denied abortions with devastating consequences. Health experts say that about 5 percent of rapes lead to pregnancy, which suggests that the 1.8 million women and girls raped during the Congo’s crisis may have led to as many as 90,000 unwanted pregnancies.

International family planning is routinely used as a political football. This is profoundly dangerous and has very real consequences to women around to the world.