Thursday January 4, 2007
American progressives’ fight for reproductive justice doesn’t begin in Tennessee‘s state legislature and end in the South Dakota ballot box. Domestic abortion bans are only one part of the ongoing international battle for reproductive freedom. But while American progressives have built an effective movement around our domestic challenges, they have not focused as much on the global reproductive health effects of American international policies.
Right now, one of the greatest threats to reproductive health worldwide is the U.S. Mexico City Policy, also known as the Global Gag Rule. The gag rule is a potent example of how dozens of nations and hundreds of thousands of women can be affected by a single presidential edict. Ronald Reagan introduced the gag rule in 1984 at a population conference in Mexico City. The policy banned funding foreign health agencies and non-governmental organizations that provided abortions or referrals for abortion. Bill Clinton overturned the gag rule when he was president, but George W. Bush reinstated it immediately after taking office in January 2001, adding bans on funding for organizations that are involved with abortion education or political activism in any way.
Alongside this policy, Bush withdrew in 2002 $34 million of foreign aid that had been earmarked for the United Nations Population Fund, the biggest provider of reproductive health services in the developing world. As of 2002, the UNPF had a $274 million budget. Using previous years as a guide, the UNFPA estimated that the funding cut would result in 2 million unwanted pregnancies, 800,000 abortions, 4,700 instances of maternal mortality, and the death of 77,000 children under five. Overturning the UNFPA funding cut and the Mexico City Policy could be the most powerful means of improving women’s health worldwide.
In Kenya, the International Planned Parenthood Federation’s refusal to comply with the Mexico City Policy criteria led to the partial or complete shutdown of five medical centers, many of which were the sole regional providers of prenatal care, mammograms, and pap smears, in addition to contraception and abortion. One such shutdown in Mathare Valley left more than 300,000 Kenyans without medical care. In the midst of the AIDS crisis, Zambian organizations were left unable to distribute contraceptives. And in Nepal, after the loss of $100,000 of funding, the central family planning clinic was forced to dismiss 60 staff members and stop providing mobile clinics. The U.S. Mexico City Policy has proven the vulnerability of international women’s health to U.S. foreign policy and funding changes.