Today is International Women’s Day, a time to pause and reflect upon the barriers that women throughout the world encounter on a daily basis as they aim to achieve equality, freedom, social advancement and the right to choose freely whether or when to have children. Despite recent advances, women in the United States and abroad continue to suffer the consequences of a right-wing U.S. administration that has put politics before health and ideology before science.
Six years ago, the Bush administration reinstated the global gag rule. While purportedly designed to reduce abortion and access to abortion services, in reality the global gag rule impacts the delivery of reproductive health care services abroad. This policy stipulates that organizations that receive U.S. family planning assistance cannot provide, counsel or refer for abortion services. They cannot advocate for abortion legalization in their own countries, even if they do so with their own funds. Consequently, this policy places the lives of our most vulnerable women in danger as health care providers are unable to provide basic reproductive health services.
In developing countries, access to family planning is often a matter of life or death. One woman dies every minute due to pregnancy-related causes and an estimated 68,000 women die each year as a result of unsafe abortion complications — numbers that could be greatly reduced with expanded access to contraception.
According to the Global Gag Rule Project, a collaborative research effort led by Population Action International and Planned Parenthood Federation of America, 66 percent of the population in Kenya is 24 years old or younger, and has limited knowledge of family planning, HIV/AIDS prevention and sexually transmitted infections. Due to the reinstatement of the global gag rule, Kenya was forced to close eight clinics, reduce staff in its remaining clinics, and significantly reduce family planning services in 2006. In Zambia, another country drastically affected by the policy, the only reproductive health clinic in the entire country lost nearly 40 percent of its staff, reduced services and ended the distribution of contraceptive supplies to the community. Without U.S funding, the clinic is unable to meet the growing demand for reproductive health services in the country.
The policies of the Bush administration do not represent America at its best, nor do they represent the values that the majority of Americans hold dear. Determined to end the global gag rule, Congresswoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., joined by lead Republican Rep. Chris Shays, R-Conn., reintroduced the Global Democracy Promotion Act — intended to repeal the global gag rule. Repealing the global gag rule would only be the first step in ensuring women’s right to reproductive health care, but it is a crucial step.
We must continue to insist that global access to family planning is a healthcare issue and not a political one. I ask you to contact your member of Congress and urge him or her to support the Global Democracy Promotion Act so that family planning organizations in developing nations can receive the U.S. funding they need to expand the reproductive health care services and programs we know are successful in saving women’s lives.