Obama Rescinds Global Gag Rule

Center for Reproductive Rights applauds President, urges further action

New York— The Center for Reproductive Rights applauds President Barack Obama's swift executive order repealing the Global Gag Rule soon after taking office. This damaging policy, which the Center has been vigorously combating since 2001, bans U.S.-funded family planning groups based overseas from discussing or providing any abortion-related services, even with their own money. The Center urges the president to build on this action to return the U.S. to its position as a world leader on women's reproductive health and human rights.

"Today, President Obama has taken a tremendous step in righting the wrongs perpetrated against women around the world by the Bush administration.  Under the Global Gag Rule, countless women were condemned to illegal and unsafe abortion, organizations' free speech rights were trampled upon and their advocacy efforts crippled," said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights. "Unsafe abortion kills nearly 70,000 women around the world each year. The gag rule prevented women's health organizations that received U.S. funds from advocacy against restrictive laws that lead to these deaths. Rescinding the policy means that the truth about these horrors of illegal abortion care can be spoken."

The Center for Reproductive Rights has been protesting this rights violation since 2001, attempting to get the Global Gag Rule struck down in the courts; documenting its effects in our 2003 report Breaking the Silence; and raising the issue before the United Nations Human Rights Committee in 2006.

Because USAID is the leading global funder of family planning, the gag rule hit hard. Organizations that opted to forego U.S. funding were forced to scale back their services and others have closed down. Groups that continued to receive funding saw their free speech rights violated, and their advocacy efforts to liberalize abortion laws stifled.  In countries where abortion is legal, medical providers had to choose between meeting their ethical obligations—discussing all reproductive health options with their patients—and continuing to receive essential funding. 

The Global Gag Rule has had a devastating impact on healthcare providers and women in nearly sixty countries. President Obama's rescission of this extremely harmful policy is a victory for providers and non-governmental organizations and for the advancement of free speech and civil engagement. And it will literally mean the difference between life and death for many of the 20 million women who are driven to unsafe abortion each year.

Added Northup, "We celebrate this significant move by the president, and we urge him to take further action and undo the damage done by the Bush administration to women's reproductive rights here and abroad.  We ask him to support the elimination of abstinence-only sex education funding, restore funding for UNFPA, and strike all restrictions on public funding for medically necessary abortions, including the Hyde Amendment, from the proposed budget."  

President George W. Bush re-imposed restrictions known as the "Global Gag Rule" (or the "Mexico City Policy") on January 22, 2001. This policy restricted foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that receive U.S. family planning funds from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) from using their own, non-U.S. funds to provide legal abortion services, lobby their own governments for abortion law reform, or even provide accurate medical counseling or referrals regarding abortion.  President Obama's executive order today lifted these restrictions.

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The Center for Reproductive Rights is the only global legal advocacy organization dedicated to advancing women's reproductive health, self-determination, and dignity as basic human rights.