46 Senators Wage Campaign to End “Global Gag Rule” Restricting Abortion Access

On Monday, 46 senators led by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire) sent a letter to Democratic leaders calling for a permanent repeal of the global gag rule, also known as the Mexico City Policy.

“The Mexico City Policy undercuts access to voluntary and comprehensive family planning and reproductive health services,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California). They then requested that the repeal be included in this year’s appropriations bill.

The Ronald Reagan-era gag rule bars non-governmental organizations that receive U.S. funding from using any funds – including from non-U.S. sources – to advocate for or perform abortions. The implementation of the rule is subject to the whims of any given presidential administration; President Joe Biden rescinded the policy when he took office last year.

Though every Republican president since Reagan has implemented the rule, Donald Trump expanded it to include all American global health funding, not just family planning funding. His administration also expanded the rule to apply to sub-recipients of organizations affected by the rule, meaning that organizations whose work is not financially supported by the U.S. government were also subject to the gag.

This placed restrictions on about $9.5 billion of funding, about 15 times more funding than the rule previously restricted.

Abortion advocates have called Trump’s expansion of the gag rule “devastating.” The rule led to higher death rates of pregnant people, made it harder to fight HIV and AIDS and, paradoxically, resulted in higher abortion rates; many organizations that provided abortion information and referrals also provide other health care services like cancer screenings, contraceptive care and HIV testing. Some organizations have lost millions in funding and have had to stop programs altogether.

Experts have said that as long as the implementation of the rule is up to the whims of presidential administrations, it will have a chilling effect even when it’s rescinded. That’s why it’s critical to permanently end the rule, the senators said.

“Since it first went into effect in 1985, this partisan policy has been instated and rescinded, to the detriment of the most vulnerable people in the world,” they wrote. “It is time to put an end to this deadly cycle.”

Progress made when the rule is rescinded can be undone by the reimplementation of the rule, the lawmakers said. Clinics are often forced to choose whether or not they want to provide comprehensive family planning care that includes information about abortion or access to the procedure – and choosing to provide better care can hamper progress and result in a loss of funding when a Republican comes around.

“The Global Gag Rule is a dangerous, discriminatory, and partisan policy that puts the health and wellbeing of millions of vulnerable people around the world at risk,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), a letter signatory, in a statement.

“We shouldn’t force organizations to provide less comprehensive reproductive health services in order to receive health aid from the United States,” Warren continued. “I was glad that President Biden rescinded the policy one year ago, but we have to permanently end this policy in order to protect reproductive health care for good.”