Here in the US, abortion has been a contentious issue for decades. Clinics where abortion services are provided often have protesters in front showing gruesome and inaccurate pictures of aborted fetuses.  Pro-choice activists are sometimes labeled as murderers; once, when I mentioned that I was working at Planned Parenthood, I was told by a med student that she was studying to “be able to save babies, not kill them.” And yet here in the United States women do have the right to choose when and if to have children, and whether pregnancy is right for us. Of course, preventative contraception methods are always preferable, but accidents happen. What sexually active girl hasn’t had a pregnancy scare at some point?  Birth control is not a guarantee. Abstinence only campaigns have been proven over and over again to be ineffective – sexuality is a part of our humanity. As American women, we are privileged to have access to that basic human right, the right to have control over our own bodies.

In many developing countries, that is not the case, and this is hugely affected by U.S. international policies. The Mexico City Policy, better known as the Global Gag Rule, prohibited any organization abroad that receives federal US funding from performing abortions, or even counseling or referring patients for abortion. This is even if the organization was doing so using outside funding.  Or, as laid out by USAID on its website:

“The Mexico City Policy required foreign nongovernmental organizations to certify that they will not perform or   actively promote abortion as a method of family planning using funds generated from any source as a condition for receiving USAID family planning assistance.”

This means that a US policy can determine what an individual doctor, who works for a US funded organization, can say to his or her individual patient halfway around the world.

President Barack Obama rescinded the Global Gag Rule on January 23, 2009, shortly after he took office. This is the latest in a series of flip-flops made by changing administrations. The Global Gag Rule was originally put in place by Ronald Reagan in 1985, then rescinded by Bill Clinton in 1993, reinstituted by George W. Bush in 2001, and recently rescinded again by Obama. Imagine that you’re a clinic director somewhere in a developing country that receives funding from the US. Knowing this history, would you jump at investing in abortion services, training, and counseling capabilities for your doctors and nurses, knowing from experience that this might result in your losing your funding in another four or eight years? The time it takes to restructure policy, funding and provision of services means that the effects of the Gag Rule extend beyond the date of its rescission. It needs to be permanently banned in order for meaningful, long-term progress to be made toward providing women worldwide with the right to make choices regarding their own bodies and lives.

On January 22, 2009, the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, President Barack Obama issued a statement, which concluded with:

“On this anniversary, we must also recommit ourselves more broadly to ensuring that our daughters have the same rights and opportunities as our sons: the chance to attain a world-class education; to have fulfilling careers in any industry; to be treated fairly and paid equally for their work; and to have no limits on their dreams. That is what I want for women everywhere.”

If women everywhere are to have these rights, we must help fight for these rights for women around the world.  The permanent ban of the Global Gag Rule is imperative to the basic right of women to control their own bodies and futures. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) have introduced the Global Democracy Promotion Act, which will permanently ban the Global Gag Rule.  Tell your representatives what you think through the CHANGE website today.

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