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Senate Votes to Repeal the Global Gag Rule, President Threatens

On Thursday, September 6, 2007, nearly a quarter century after the policy had been first introduced, the Senate voted successfully to repeal the Global Gag Rule (GGR). The GGR prohibits distributing federal foreign aid to any organization performing, counseling, or advocating for abortion, even if the organization uses its own funds for any of these activities.  It became known as the “gag rule” to illustrate the extent to which it censors, or “gags,” health care providers from even speaking about abortion.

The Global Gag Rule is also known as the Mexico City Policy, so named after the location of the 1984 U.N. Conference on Population where the U.S. first revealed the elements that would become this policy.  The GGR was then implemented during the administration of Ronald Reagan and carried over into the administration of George H.W. Bush.  It was later rescinded by President Bill Clinton in 1993 when he first entered office.  Congress then attached the provision to a 1999 foreign appropriations bill, which Clinton lifted again a year later.  When George W. Bush entered into office, one of his first actions was to reinstate the Global Gag Rule. 

The severe limitation that the Global Gag Rule places upon free speech garners heavy criticism, particularly as it comes from a country that so fervently champions human rights and the value of free speech within its own borders.  The provision is additionally criticized for placing health care providers in the compromising position of choosing between satisfying the material needs of their clinics through U.S. funding and meeting the needs of their patients by offering abortion counseling and services.  International Planned Parenthood Foundation explained that the “Gag Rule [undermined] decades of work to strengthen healthcare systems in the developing word.”1  Senator Barabara Boxer (D-CA) has also spoken out against this restriction, decrying that “thousands of women have died because of this dangerous policy.”2 

Boxer joined efforts with Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) in the bipartisan introduction of an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2008 Foreign Operations Spending Bill.  The amendment, which would repeal the GGR provision, passed by a vote of 53–41, just short of a 2/3 majority required to override a presidential veto.

The House did not directly repeal the GGR in its version of the Foreign Operations Spending Bill, however, it did vote to loose some of the restrictions.  Specifically the House voted for a contraceptives exemption allowing overseas health clinics that previously were considered ineligible to receive donated condoms and other contraceptives through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).  These clinics had been refused U.S. foreign aid because they provide or promote access to abortions.

Stalwart right-wing senator, Sam Brownback (R-KS), essentially refusing to recognize defeat, introduced his own amendment  in a vain attempt to repeal the contraceptives exemption added to the House version.  The measure was soundly defeated by a vote of 54–40.

Now that the Senate and House have both passed their respective versions of the FY 2008 State-Foreign Appropriations bill, a conference of the two bills is soon likely where differences between the pieces of legislation will be reconciled.  President Bush has threatened to veto the entire foreign operations bill over the Global Gag Rule repeal. 

“President Bush’s threat to veto the entire foreign operations bill over the Gag Rule repeal demonstrates the lengths that this administration will go to restrict the most basic of fundamental values, such as free speech and access to full and complete health services for the world’s neediest people,” said William Smith, vice president for public policy at SIECUS.

References

  1. “IPPF Statement on US House of Representative Vote[sic]: Exempting contraceptive supplies from Global Gag Rule,” International Planned Parenthood Federation, accessed 3 October 2007,
    <http://www.ippf.org/en/News/Press-
    releases/IPPF+statement+on+US+House+of+Representative+vote.htm
    >
  2.   “U.S. Senate Passes Boxer-Snowe Amendment Repealing the Global Gag Rule,” Press release published 6 September 2007, accessed on 1 October 2007 <http://boxer.senate.gov/news/releases/record.cfm?id=282006>.

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