What is the Global Gag Rule?

The Global Gag Rule was first introduced by President Ronald Reagan in 1984 under the name of the Mexico City Policy.

Since then, it has been revoked by Democratic Presidents who have taken office, and re-introduced by all Republican Presidents. In January 2017, a dramatically expanded version was signed by President Donald Trump very soon after he took office. Previously the Global Gag Rule applied to family planning funds only, this version of the Global Gag Rule applies to all global health funds provided by the US government. The estimate is that the US provides as much as $8.8 billion in global health assistance every year.

The Global Gag Rule affects about $2 billion of that spending. It bans non-US non-governmental organisations from receiving any US funds if they give information and referrals for abortion, provide safe abortion* or plead for better abortion legislation. The Global Gag Rule comes on top of the Helms Amendment, a US law in place since 1973, that already stops any US government funds from being used for abortions.

The Global Gag Rule goes further: it stops organisations from using their own or other people’s funds for these purposes. It applies to US funds provided directly to non-US NGOs or indirectly through US-based NGOs. It does not apply to funds provided by the US government to other governments.

*Officially, abortion care in the case of rape, incest and endangerment of the life of the woman is allowed under the Global Gag Rule. Also, it is not supposed to apply to health care workers in countries that have constitutional protection for abortion (like in South Africa where the constitution says all health workers must provide what a woman says she needs, including safe abortion). In reality, the rule tends to get over-interpreted and all abortion care services are affected.

The impact of the Global Gag Rule will be substantial.

Organisations must choose between receiving funds from the U.S. government – to date the largest funder of programmes for sexual and reproductive health, and also for related programmes, such as HIV prevention and care – and providing the full range of programmes, services and care that women and girls need. Services that are proven, including through independent expert reviews and guidelines provided by WHO, to have the greatest impact on health and well-being.

The Global Gag Rule prevents professionals from giving appropriate medical advice to women or referring them to other services. This means that life-saving medical decisions cannot be made by the trained health care providers who are best able to understand the needs of the women and girls they treat.  Rather, they are shaped by policy makers in another country.

Organisations can take a stand against this oppressive rule and refuse to sign. But if they cannot find alternative sources of funding, they will need to cut services, fire staff and close clinics that are often the only source of health care. This hurts the whole community, as well as individual girls and women and their families.

When the Global Gag Rule was in force in previous years, the harm was clear.

Research shows that it:

  • Prevented women and girls from accessing contraception and safe abortion that they are legally entitled to in their countries

  • Hampered HIV prevention, treatment and care

  • Contributed to the closing of health clinics

  • Obstructed rural communities’ access to health care

  • Stopped people from speaking out against the laws that prevent women and girls from accessing safe and effective health care

    More information about the current impact of the Global Gag Rule can be found here.