Biden Administration Should Ensure ‘Global Gag Rule’ Never Returns

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BY JOHN SEIPP

An American student reflects on the need to protect the reproductive health of women and girls by revoking the Global Gag Rule “indefinitely”.

With the ushering in of the new Biden administration, there is now a particular focus on lifting the arcane and almost dystopian rules the previous presidency put in place.

Just this past week, Joe Biden signed a memorandum that rescinds the Global Gag Rule (GGR), a policy that prevented U.S. foreign aid going towards abortion services and the organizations that provide them.

The Trump administration extended this policy, which had a trickle-down effect that further gutted funding for global health, including the fight against HIV/AIDS, malaria, and maternal/child health. In turn, the GGR significantly hampered Kenyan health efforts by limiting reproductive health advocacy and funding.

For decades, the Global Gag Rule has been a political football; an issue that American presidents have punted further down the line. This type of legislation does not just form in a vacuum. The Mexico City Policy has survived 30 years under successive U.S. presidents just so lawmakers can go back to their home states and say that they’ve got a political win. 

But at what cost?

“Ignorance is bliss.” Quite often, this is an unfortunate occurrence. In the case of the Global Gag Rule, otherwise known as the Mexico City Policy, which started under Ronald Reagan, many Americans – unless actively involved in foreign affairs – are blissfully unaware of the widespread implications such has on global health.

In 2018, approximately 95% of Kenyan sexual and reproductive health aid came from the U.S. To further put it into perspective, the Global Gag Rule affected almost 71 Kenyan health funding awards. Ultimately, this disrupted health services at almost every level by decreasing access to needed contraceptives, cutting family planning programs, and increasing opposition to reproductive health rights across Africa.

It goes without saying, the effects the Global Gag Rule had on sexual and reproductive health in Kenya and worldwide were sweeping, with implications that will probably be felt well into the future.

And the next steps won’t be easy either.

At the moment, the memorandum acts only as a commitment for U.S. agencies such as USAID or the State Department to not enforce the Global Gag Rule. But some organizations predict that it will take months if not a year for NGOs to sort out what the new Biden policy means and to then be awarded funding contracts without restrictions on abortion-related work.

So maybe, now with both democratic-controlled legislatures, there will (hopefully) be some political appetite in the United States to revive pro-sexual and reproductive health legislation that protects global healthcare rights indefinitely, such as the Global Health, Empowerment and Rights (HER) Act.

This legislation would prevent a future president from unilaterally reinstating the Global Gag Rule and states that foreign NGOs cannot be barred from U.S. funding based on the health services they provide. Passing the HER Act would restore the reproductive and sexual health rights for the women and girls of Kenya.

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