Alarming that Most Americans Still Not Aware of the Global Gag Rule

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A young American woman reflects on the impact of lifting the Global Gag Rule on the reproductive health of women and girls in Kenya

As a young woman living in the U.S., I often come across conversations and debates about abortion. However, conversations about reproductive health and its components are less frequent. Within the United States, and at a global level, reproductive health is not given the justice or attention that is essential for enabling all women to thrive.

The fight for reproductive health justice is complex and ongoing, with abortion being a major focus. The Global gag Rule (GGR) has arguably been the largest barrier, and yet the majority of Americans are not even aware of it.

In 1984, republican U.S. President Ronald Reagan introduced the GGR, a policy abolishing U.S. federal funding to non-governmental organizations that provide abortion counseling or referrals, advocate to decriminalize abortion, or expand abortion services.

This policy has been repealed by every democratic U.S. President and reinstated by every republican U.S. President following its initial introduction.

On January 23rd, 2017, President Trump reinstated the GGR and expanded it to further restrict abortion services. The expansion has led to a plethora of other health services being negatively impacted, such as family planning and access to contraceptives initiatives, HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, malaria prevention, and improving maternal and child health.

The GGR has prevented more than just abortion services from being delivered, because it has forced health care providers to choose between receiving U.S. funds and counseling patients on all of their reproductive options.

In Kenya, many clinics that depend on U.S. donor funding were forced to close due to the lack of funding, and those that remained open endured large budget cuts, program downsizing, staff layoffs, and implementing service fees.

Since Trump’s expansion of the policy, contraception rates have decreased, HIV transmission rates have risen, conception rates have grown, and the rates of abortions remain the same – notably, the rate of unsafe ones have increased. Overall, the GGR has done drastically more harm than good in regard to the health and well-being of Kenyan women and girls.

I find it appalling that we have allowed repealing and reinstating the GGR to continue for over 37 years! It is also concerning that most individuals are unaware of the problem. The back and forth of the policy’s validity exhibit the Americans’ inability to compromise with one another.

The lack of reliability invokes fear and confusion among NGOs, communities, and individuals impacted by the policy’s content. It also gives the impression that the U.S. is financially unstable in providing for NGOs.

Most significantly, every time the GGR is reinstated, the progress of NGO program initiatives is halted, reversed and the health of Kenyan women and girls is compromised. Permanently repealing the GGR will ensure sustainability of development initiatives and strengthen the foundations of reproductive health justice in Kenya.

Repealing the GGR is excellent news in the short term. However, to ensure that the next republican President does not reinstate the GGR, actions need to be taken for its permanent repeal. 

Ms Jackson is an intern at NAYA and a Public Health student at American University, Washington, D.C.