Welcome back Chaise Lounge readers and an especially warm welcome to our new subscribers! Spring is coming and the vaccines are rolling out. Both good things that give me hope for a better future, and it’s been a while since I could say that! This week we complete an in-depth dive into the Global Gag Rule, a political football that affects women’s health around the world. Read more to understand why this policy must be rescinded permanently and how you can help. First, let’s take a look at some quick news items.
As a result of Kosovo’s most recent elections, women make up 40% of the legislature. Saranda Bogujevci, one of the newest members of Parliament, is like many other female politicians in Kosovo who faced horrific acts of violence as a child. These women hope to take the country back from corruption. The legislature will elect the next president, and it looks like Vjosa Osmani, the acting president is the likely winner giving the country a new female president.
Last week CL noted the Edmee Chavannes and Bevelyn Beatty had been arrested for violence against abortion clinic volunteers. We now understand that they are connected to the alt-right group, Proud Boys, who have provided security for them across the country as they protest. This connection between the anti-abortion movement and alt-right groups is especially interesting because both of these women are Black.
Also, last week, CL shared a TikTok video where a mother was questioning the existence of virginity. Then I came across Dr. Jen Gunter’s take on the history of the hymen as a sign of virginity and its actual physiological purpose.
In honor of International Women’s Day which was on Monday, the Fearless Girl statue in NYC was surrounded by the broken glass ceiling.
Why the Global Gag Rule Must Go Forever
On January 28, 2021, President Biden rescinded the Global Gag Rulealso known as the Mexico City Policy implemented under former President Trump’s administration. And while this is fabulous news, there is a lot of work that needs to happen to undo the harm the policy caused. Because Trump vastly expanded the number of agencies that were involved in the gag rule, it will take a long time to repair the damage.
What exactly is the Global Gag Rule?
The Global Gag Rule dates back to 1984 during the Reagan administration. The rule prevents reproductive health organizations in countries outside the United States from receiving funding from the United States if they provide or even refer pregnant people for abortion services, regardless of if those services are legal in that country or if they use their own funding. The rule can be rescinded or reinstated by Executive Order, so health providers abroad who rely on some U.S. funding are at the mercy of whoever is president at any time. Since 1984, the rule has typically been in use during Republican administrations and rescinded during Democratic ones.
At the beginning of the Trump administration, the Global Gag Rule went into effect again with expansions of organizations that would be affected by the ban. The expanded interpretation meant that any organization that accepts U.S. funds cannot provide funds to another organization that does not abide by the gag rule. According to Planned Parenthood at the time, “As it stands currently, the rule includes international organizations that work on any programs funded by U.S. global health assistance — including programs to expand access to contraception, prevent and treat HIV/AIDS, combat malaria, and improve maternal and child health.” As a result, all of these areas of health were hard hit.
A Case Study in Kenya
Nelly Munyasia is the Executive Director of the Reproductive Health Network Kenya (RHNK). In a recent panel interview with Galina Espinoza, Editor in Chief of Rewire News Group, Munyasia outlined the many ways that the global gag rule not only prevents legal abortions in Kenya but reduces access to other necessary health remedies.
Kenya has a high rate of illegal abortions, one of the highest in Africa. Unsafe abortions are 17% of maternal deaths in Kenya annually. It also has some of the most restrictive abortion laws allowing the procedure only in the case of rape or endangerment of life. The laws are unevenly interpreted and applied, leading to scores of unsafe abortions scarring and killing women. While the gag rule was in effect, Munyasia’s organization decided that they would no longer accept money from the U.S. It was an ethical decision that greatly reduced their budget. But it is not only the pregnant women who are affected.
The RHNK provides a wide menu of family planning and health services supporting clinics nationwide. They provide training for the clinic doctors and staff, audits, and upgrades for the clinics. They help clinics foster partnerships with like-minded groups and are involved in policymaking. They provide direct health services including birth control, HIV medications, and Tuberculosis treatment. They bring treatment directly to their patients.
By refusing to sign onto the Global Gag rule, their services are greatly curtailed. All of their health services are affected. They can no longer afford to deliver HIV, TB, and birth control to patients. Other partnership organizations can no longer work with them because of a fear of losing their own funding. Additionally, anti-abortion opposition groups have also felt emboldened by the gag rule and are becoming more vocal and increasing their attacks. Munyasia reports that fortunately, the She Decides organization has provided some of the missing funding to help RHNK.
Kenya is just one example of the many countries and people deeply affected by the gag rule. It illustrates the fact that laws and rules will never rid a country of abortions but will only send women to illegal and untrained abortionists, risking their lives in the process. In the meantime, access to contraceptives, HIV, and TB medications are no longer available.
The Global HER Act: A permanent rescission of the gag rule
Because the Global Gag Rule can be reinstated or rescinded any time there is a change in administration, our foreign partners understand that the United States is an unreliable partner when it comes to supporting family planning services. However, several Congressional Representatives introduced the Global HER Act which would permanently repeal the global gag rule. The permanent repeal would allow agencies in other countries to know that their funding will not be snatched away at the whim of a president and will provide consistency in budgeting and ultimately services. The United States can return to being a stalwart partner in supporting reproductive health for people across the world if the Global HER Act is passed.
This is a human rights issue of health for people around the world. People need access to the full menu of healthcare services without the shadow of the U.S. president making his personal beliefs a part of their healthcare. People cannot access healthcare that is unrelated to abortions. It is hypocritical of the United States, where abortion is legal, to tell other countries that they should not allow abortion if they want financial support.
If you support the Global HER Act, please make sure to contact your Congressional Representatives and let them know of your support. And tell other people as well. It will be hard to move this bill, so we need all to do our part to make our voices heard.