Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 2.8.07

Global Gagging
Bush carries on an absurd and destructive policy

Thirty-four years after the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade ruling, which legalized abortion nationwide, Planned Parenthood is gathering supporters to celebrate and reflect on what this important ruling means to women around the country. But we also want this anniversary to remind everyone that not all women around the world are afforded the reproductive care they deserve.

Unfortunately, January 2007 also marks the sixth anniversary of President Bush’s reinstatement of the global gag rule, which dictates that organizations receiving U.S. family planning assistance cannot counsel, provide or refer for abortion services. They are also prohibited from advocating for abortion legalization in their own countries, even if they do so with their own private funding! This is a restriction not only on reproductive health care, but also on free speech — a restriction that would not be allowed were it implemented here at home, but often goes ignored abroad.

In Oregon, voters sent a powerful message last November when they defeated Measure 43, re-elected pro-choice Gov. Kulongoski and returned the Oregon House to pro-choice hands. Against this backdrop of domestic triumph, we can’t forget about women overseas whose lives continue to be threatened by the global gag rule, a remnant of the Reagan-era assault on international family planning services.

Since 2001, foreign reproductive health care organizations have been forced to either accept U.S. funds and agree to stipulations that jeopardize their patients’ health, or reject U.S. assistance and risk eliminating crucial services for lack of funding. Because of the global gag rule, clinics have closed and supplies of contraceptives have become increasingly unavailable, diminishing access to vital services for some of the world’s most vulnerable and marginalized people.

I had the opportunity to travel to Western Europe in the summer of 2002, a year and a half after the reinstatement of the rule. In Paris I encountered frantic reproductive health care staff and worried providers who were concerned about the plight of women in developing countries as a result of the restrictions imposed via the global gag rule. They were upset that they would not adequately be able to pick up supporting services in those less privileged, already underfunded countries where the U.S. support had dropped off. It was embarrassing, to say the least.

The global gag rule has always been a dangerous and cruel policy, and there is no evidence to suggest that it reduces the number of abortions worldwide. Instead, its adverse impact on women’s health and families worldwide has been clearly demonstrated. This harmful policy does not represent America at its best, nor does it represent the values that we hold dear. President Bush ought to repeal this regulation immediately. And you ought to urge him to do so as well.

Kellie DeVore is the vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Southwestern Oregon. She participated in Advocates for Youth’s 2002 European Study Tour to see first hand Western European countries’ approaches to teen sexual health — which result in better public health outcomes than those of the U.S.