US abortion ruling 'holds thousands of lives to ransom'

Posted: 4 February 2002

Thousands, if not millions, of lives are being held to ransom by President Bush's 'Global Gag Rule', claims The International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) - the world's largest provider of sexual and reproductive health services - on the first anniversary of the Gag Rule's re-instatement.

In one of his first actions on taking office in January 2001, President Bush reinstated the Global Gag Rule - or Mexico City Policy - which cut off US international aid money from any family planning organization that engaged in, directly or indirectly, abortion-related activities. Because of the restrictions it places on the way organizations outside the US use their own money, many see it as an affront to the principle of free speech, as guaranteed in the US Constitution.

"IPPF programmes serving over three million people are suffering as a direct result of losing US funding. We, and the people we help, are being held to ransom." said IPPF Director General Ingar Brueggemann, launching the International Planned Parenthood Federation's Global Gag Rule Fund.

Anna Raeburn said: "We seek to guarantee programmes which allow mothers to have safe deliveries, allow babies to survive, protect young people against HIV/AIDS and empower women to fight domestic abuse. Without these much-needed services IPPF's clients - among the poorest in the world - could lose their lives.

"The return of the Gag Rule, which has been touted by the Bush Administration as a means to keep US taxpayer money from supporting abortions abroad, has not actually affected abortion-related activities, as these activities have not been eligible for US funds for decades. This unjust policy has actually increased to a large degree the number of unintended pregnancies and illegal, unsafe abortions causing death and disability.

IPPF has launched a short documentary, 'Freedom of Choice', on the impact of the Global Gag Rule. It features two ground-breaking IPPF projects in Peru and Georgia which offer counseling, services and skills training to young people and to internally displaced people and refugees. These programmes, in common with many other life-saving projects, face closure as a result of the Gag Rule cuts.

Gag Rule

Before the Gag Rule was re-imposed USAID had earmarked $8 million in funding to the IPPF between September 2001 and August 2003 for projects that aim to increase access to family planning and other reproductive health services and improve the sustainability of organizations that provide these services. US contraceptive supplies were also discontinued, which will have an impact on campaigns to control the spread of HIV/AIDS.

The cuts are already hitting hard. For example:

  • The Family Planning Association of Nepal has been campaigning to reform the country's abortion laws. Nepal has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, about half of these deaths are due to unsafe abortion. The Family Planning Association of Nepal wants to continue to campaign and this means rejecting USAID funding which has supported three reproductive health clinics. Inevitably this will have an impact on the health of the country.

  • In Bangladesh, 14 family planning clinics supported by USAID face closure unless other funds can be found.

  • In Peru, the Yes! Project, a ground-breaking programme to improve the sexual and reproductive health of young people in Lima has had to close. Using youth-friendly games and multi-media activities Yes! had been a great success, offering health services and counselling to the most marginalised of Lima's burgeoning young population.

Other countries which have lost funding for reproductive health services, HIV prevention, youth services and safe motherhood programmes include, Malaysia, Peru, Nigeria, Cambodia and Nepal.

Related links:

International Planned Parenthood Federation

UNFPA

Population Action International