Gag on, gag off. Gag on, gag off.
The reinstating and revoking of the “Global Gag Rule” on abortion can probably be considered an American tradition, having been reinstated and revoked a total of six times since it first came about in 1984.
And since its creation, the Global Gag Rule has had several unfortunate and unintended consequences for women around the world, according to a 2008 study released by half a dozen global health and family planning organizations.
The Global Gag Rule is known officially as the Mexico City Policy, but the name its critics give it seems much more appropriate.
Since passing the 1973 Foreign Assistance Act, the U.S. has already banned federal money from being used by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) – like the International Planned Parenthood Federation – to provide information about abortions or writing referrals.
This means international NGOs have been using other sources of revenue to support their abortion services.
But the Global Gag Rule takes the American obsession over women’s reproductive rights to a new level.
According to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, the Global Gag Rule forces NGOs to no longer provide any abortion services, information or advice, no matter the source of money, as well as curtail any lobbying for changes in abortion policies or funding abortion research, in order to receive U.S. funding.
It’s a call for complete silence on abortion around the developing world.
And as organizations like Planned Parenthood and Marie Stopes International know, when silence falls, women suffer.
Abortions are never “Plan A,” and these organizations work hard to educate women and families in developing countries about safe and effective contraceptives to, in part, prevent abortions.
But according to the Guttmacher Institute (an organization aimed toward advocating for global advances in sexual and reproductive health), around 225 million women in developing countries have great need for safe and effective contraceptives.
When women don’t have access to safe contraceptives, or only have access to ineffective contraceptives, they are forced to turn to abortion as their only alternative for birth control for economic reasons, out of fear for their health or their child (in cases of H.I.V. or severe birth defects), in cases of rape and more.
And we’re not talking about the same abortion services we get here.
At home, the death rate for women is 0.7 in 100,000 procedures overall (and 0.1 if the abortion is before eight weeks) according to the institute.
Based on that ratio, with 926,200 abortions performed in 2014 (a new national low) maybe around 65 women died of complications, if that.
The abortion-related death rate in developing countries is anywhere from 8 to 18 percent, and in 2014, abortion-related deaths ranged from 22,500 to 44,000 women, according to the institute.
And then there are those who don’t die from unsafe abortions.
The Guttmacher Institute estimates in 2012, there were 6.9 million women in developing countries who were treated for complications – infections, hemorrhaging, damage to their reproductive systems and more – stemming from unsafe abortion procedures.
The institute also estimates 40 percent of women who experience complications from an unsafe abortion don’t get treated.
So when it comes to having to choose between funding or providing safe abortion services, it’s no wonder international organizations choose the latter – the alternative, frankly, would be irresponsible.
And it’s simply inhumane for our government to force that choice to be made around the world.
But even if the gag was lifted today, and U.S. funds started flowing back to these organizations, we still have a major problem.
That problem is not abortion.
The problem is that even with American aid, circumstances will continue to push millions of women around the world to make, as far as I am concerned, one of the most difficult decisions anyone can ever make.
Saving their lives, and the lives of their children, starts with knowledgeable family planning, sex education and access to safe, effective contraceptives and, yes, abortion services, because it’s simply no good bringing a life into this world if you’re not equipped to give it the best life you can.
Lift the gag. Save lives.
Sometimes the answer really is that simple.