The Winding History of the Global Gag Rule

By Julia d'Amours

On September 7th, Senate lawmakers presented “a twofold rebuke” to the Trump Administration’s abortion policy. The proposed legislation would reinstate funding to the United Nations Population Fund and overturn the Global Gag Rule, a hallmark Republican presidential policy that bans US support for international organizations that offer or promote abortion services.

The first segment of the bill regards support for the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), which has a winding and tumultuous relationship with the United States. The UNFPA aimsto promote family planning, maternal health resources, and improved childcare in developing countries. It was founded at the urging of President Nixon in 1969, with the US being one of its core leaders. By 1984, however, President Reagan became one of the UNFPA’s greatest adversaries, accusing it of supporting the Chinese “one-child” policy.  He pulled funding from UNFPA through the Kemp-Kasten anticoercion law, which revoked US support from any organization that “supports or participates in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization”. Since then, funding for the UNFPA has waxed and waned with the party of presidential leadership, with Democrats offering support for the organization and Republicans being quick to rescind it.

The second facet of the proposal is an amendment presented by Jeanne Shaheen (D- New Hampshire) to undo the “Mexico City Policy”. The Mexico City Policy, also known as the Global Gag Rule, bars federal aid to foreign organizations that provide or promote abortion. Under Trump, however, the policy has been expanded to all organizations that receive global health funding, such as those offering maternal health, anti-Zika, and preventative HIV/AIDs programs.The proposed legislation would undo Trump’s reforms, limit future efforts to reinstate the Mexico City policy, and restore US funding to UNFPA. The Amendment narrowly passed in a 16-15 vote with Republican Senators Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Ark) casting the final votes in favor.

The proposal has been praised across party divides. Shaheen applauded the bipartisan support for the new policy, claiming it would “preserve and restore funding levels for international organizations that help to prevent over 50 million unintended pregnancies around the world, and reduce the number of maternal deaths we see from those accessing unsafe abortions when the lack of family planning leaves them without options.” Family planning proponents hailed the move for “sending the message that the lives of girls, women, and families who rely on reproductive healthcare matter here and abroad,” said Brian Dixon, Senior Vice President of the Population Connection Action Fund.

Despite the acclaim, the future of the amendment remains uncertain. Unlike previous efforts to reinstate UNFPA funding and repeal the Global Gag Rule, the amendment has to pass through a Republican Senate, House, and Executive branch. Social conservatives in the House have controlled the US reproductive health agenda since 2011. Typically, the Senate has rebuked their more radical proposals, but now that social conservatives have more control there, the fate of the bill is even more uncertainRemarked Dixon, “[the bill] has to be passed by the full Senate… It’s hard to know what they’re going to do… At some point, these two bills are going to get negotiated into something that both houses will pass.” Senator Lindsay Graham (R- S.C.) commented that the GOP-dominated house would insist on keeping Trump’s policy in place. “This is the same debate we have every year, probably with the same outcome,” he claimed.

Another indication of the amendment’s uncertain future is that the House spending plan includes no financial provisions for it, hinting that the proposal is unlikely to pass or at least will be watered-down before becoming law. Historically, Capitol Hill has opted to retain a traditional budget that preserves the status quo, and the foreign aid required to enact an amendment restoring funding for the UNFPA and rescinding the Gag Rule could amount to as much as $8.8 billion.

This bureaucratic push-and-pull between Republicans and Democrats on the Global Gag Rule may appear strictly political, but it has a very real effect on people’s lives and health throughout the developing world. For example, the Lesotho Planned Parenthood Association received 426,000 condoms from USAID over two years during the Clinton Administration. Once the Gage Rule went back into effect upon the election of Geroge W. Bush, the shipments ceased because the association was the only accessible conduit for condoms in the entire country, in which one in four women was HIV/AIDS positive.

Nor do Republicans’ intentions to curb abortions through rescinded funding seem productive. The claim that cutting family planning funding will make “abortion more rare” has never been supported with data. Studies by Stanford University and a survey of abortion rates in Ghana have shown the contrary to be true. Moreover, cuts to family planning services means abortions are more likely to be performed unsafely, a leading cause of maternal death. 

The global trend towards liberalizing family planning services throughout the world indicates the common understanding that access to family planning services and abortion is a right and essential dimension to healthcare. Limiting maternal health and family planning resources does not reduce rates of abortions, but raises the death tolls for women and their children, meaning Republicans’ “pro-life” policy is actually the contrary. 

 

GJC Weekly News Roundup

By Julia d'Amours

Chile proceeds with the repeal of its total anti-abortion laws. In August, legislation was presented to permit abortion in three cases: if the life of the mother was in danger, if it the fetus would not survive, or if the pregnancy was a result of rape. Lawyers argued that a total abortion ban was inhumane and a violation of women’s rights. Though polls indicate more than 70 percent of the population supports more lenient abortion laws, the Catholic Church and elite upper class staunchly opposed the bill. The repeal is considered a major victory in women’s rights and reproductive rights, and many hope it will lead to similar legislation in the region.

Last Friday, Kenya’s Supreme Court ruled that the re-election of the sitting president would be revisited after discovery that the vote counts had been irregular. It is the first example in Africa in which a court voided the re-election of an incumbent. Many are at unease considering Kenya’s fragile political landscape—the last disputed election in 2007 resulted in at least 1,300 dead and 600,000 displaced around the country.

On Sunday, Cambodia arrested Kem Sokha, the main opposition leader, accusing him of treason. This follows accounts of government harassment on the free press and expulsion of NGOs, such as the pro-democracy National Democratic Institute. A Human Rights Watch official called the arrest “a disastrous setback” for Cambodia as the country prepares for elections next year.

On Monday, Malala Yousafzi joined an increasing number of human rights activists in publicly criticizing Myanmar’s effective leader Aung San Suu Kyi for the treatment of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Burma. More than 73,000 Rohingya have fled into Bangladesh after they were attacked by Burmese military factions on August 25th. The UN special rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar has described the situation as “grave.” Widely seen as a champion of democracy, Suu Kyi has remained quiet on the subject of the Rohingya.

On Tuesday, President Trump broke headlines by announcing the end of DACA—the federal program that protected nearly 800,000 young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the US as children. He claimed DACA’s establishment was an abuse of electoral power and rebuking it would establish rule of law. Many of those enrolled in DACA already have families, started careers, or enrolled in higher education in the US. Permits that are set to expire in the next six months will be renewed, but the Department of Homeland Security will stop processing new applications for the program. Officials say there will be no formal guidance that former DACA recipients are not eligible for deportation.

On Wednesday, the Trump Administration introduced a Security Council resolution that would empower the United States Navy and Airforce to interdict North Korean ships and evaluate if their cargo contains military equipment. It also included a ban on the shipment of crude oil, petroleum, and natural gas, which would have severe results for the North Korean population as winter approaches, and aims to block the assets of Kim Jong-un. The resolution is careful not to encompass a total blockade, which is an act of war, but permits the US and UNSC to “nonconsensual inspections.”

On Thursday, a federal appeals court permitted thousands of refugees who had been blocked by President Trumps’ travel ban to enter the country. Since June, the government has frozen refugee resettlement applications and brought resettlement programs to a standstill.  Yesterday’s ruling mandated that the government resume refugee resettlements in the next five days. It also upheld a lower court decision that exempted grandparents and other relatives from the ban. A Justice Department representative remarked that they will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.

Also on Thursday, the High Court of Australia ruled that a postal survey on the legalization of gay marriage was legitimate, despite the objections of same-sex marriage advocates. The results of the survey could not make same-sex marriage legal or illegal, but it could spark a vote in Parliament. Polls suggest that a “yes” vote in favor of legalizing gay marriage will prevail. The results will be announced the 15th of November.

Photo by Alsidare Hickson 

GJC Weekly News Roundup

Sunday, Burma rejected claims allegations of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity against Rohingya Muslims. Last year, in response to Rohingya militants killing nine border guards, the Burmese army allegedly burned down homes, raped village women and shot people on sight in an attack that caused approximately 75,000 to flee to Bangladesh. This prompted a United Nations probe, which is being blocked by Burma.

Monday, a United Nations aid chief warned that there are the early warning signs of genocide in the Central African Republic (CAR). CAR has hosted a war between Muslim and Christian armed groups since 2013, and over half a million people have been displaced. The violence has intensified recently after a period of relative calm, and the UN warns that the risk of ethnic cleansing is heightened.

Monday, New York has formed a New York State Council on Women and Girls. The Council aims to combat discrimination against women and girls by creating state laws on issues like protecting reproductive rights and pushing for equal pay. It was formed in response to the election of President Donald Trump, who is threatening to remove the White House Council on Women and Girls.

Monday, frustrated with the United Nations’ lack of action on holding war criminals accountable, a top former war crimes prosecutor quit the UN’s Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria. “I give up. The states in the Security Council don’t want justice,” Carla Del Ponte said. This leaves two members of the Commission. Wednesday, the New York Times published an editorial about her resignation and the Commission’s inaction.

Read Marie Wilken's piece in Ms.

 

GJC's Comunications Intern, Marie Wilken wrote a piece for Ms. on the passing of the health care legislation and how it exemplifies the need for equal represenation of women in the US government.

Read here

G20: Women’s rights are not a political bargaining tool

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - July 8, 2017

[NEW YORK, NY] - On the occasion of the G20 Summit on June 8 and 9th, 2017 in Hamburg, Germany, the Global Justice Center renews its calls to world leaders to uphold international law safeguarding the rights of women and girls.

Global Justice Center at the NYC Women's March

Global Justice Center at the Women's March in DC

Respect Rape Victims’ Right to Abortions in Syria

by Carolina van der Mensbrugghe

Since 2011, the Syrian civil war continues to inflict irreparable harm on its civilian population and has resulted in over one quarter million civilian deaths. A disturbing and specific factor of the Syrian conflict is the brutal and systematic use of rape and other forms of violence against women. Rape ­– whether perpetrated by ISIS militants, the Damascus regime, or other rebels, is a fate far worse than death for many Syrian women.

In Latakia, a woman reportedly committed suicide because was unable to abort an unwanted pregnancy. Another woman was thrown off a balcony by her own father after he found out she was pregnant as a result of gang rape. Countless other women provided testimony that speaks to the gravity of the violence inflicted on their bodies, be it as an act of genocide, seen with Yazidi women kidnapped by ISIS, or as a weapon of war to destroy and divide rebel communities in opposition of the Assad regime.

To quote writer and Syrian refugee, Samar Yazbek, “[women’s] bodies have become battlefields and torture chambers.”

The Syrian conflict is considered the “largest humanitarian crisis of our time,” according to USAID. A recent report from the Syrian Refugees Websitea project of the Migration Policy Centre at the European University Institute in Florence, indicates that there are about 11 million refugees and over 13.5 million civilians in need of humanitarian aid.Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), wants to direct more international aid towards assisting women and girls, who he describes as “the most vulnerable and the ones who suffer most.” Women and girls, he further notes, are facing a campaign of widespread rape combined with a woeful lack of reproductive health services.

An estimated 500,000 pregnant Syrian women remain in the war-torn country or are in nearby nations. More than ever, access to abortion services is a critical form of medical care for these wartime rape victims, as well as protected right under the Geneva Conventions. Yet safe abortion services remain woefully lacking. Post-abortion care (care that’s required when women have undergone unsafe abortion procedures), has been identified as one of the major challenges in refugee camps.

Misallocation of funds is partly to blame, which Osotimehin concedes is due to the prioritization of providing food, shelter, and water over “women’s issues.” The resulting gendered bias towards issue-areas renders the discussion of “the dignity, the welfare, and the security of women (…) something that doesn’t play out at all” in donor nations discussions according to Osotimehin. The resulting impact this bias has had on dictating how to address and allocate humanitarian aid is devastating.

Another reason that fewer rape victims are receiving the essential medical care they need is that nearly all the major humanitarian groups in Syria, including UNFPA, are subject to American anti-abortion restrictions on humanitarian aid. The United States, through USAID, continues to be the largest government donor to the Syria crisis, with contributions of nearly $5.6 billion, between 2011 and 2016, matching the next three largest donors’ funding combined. This US monopoly limits in large part the services humanitarian aid providers can make available and equipment they can buy with US funds,

This summer, the Democratic Party, in a historic first step, has included in its platform a vow to overturn all domestic laws that impede a woman’s access to abortion, including the Helms Amendment. The reversal of this ban would allow US foreign aid to be used for abortions and other reproductive medical care desperately needed by thousands of women in Syria and throughout the world.

This year is the 67th Anniversary of the Geneva Conventions. We must reflect as a nation on both the historical legacy, as well as the ongoing protections the treaties afford civilians in conflict. In its inception the Geneva Conventions sought to define the scope of international humanitarian law by regulating armed conflict in service of offering combatants and civilians unalienable protections.

Just as the Geneva Conventions, and their application, have expanded over time in recognition of the evolving nature of armed conflicts, so too must convention signatories commit to modifying domestic policies that obstruct adherence to the treaties’ binding obligations. Such obligations include providing the right to all necessary medical care, which includes access to abortion services for war rape victims.

It is President Obama’s last opportunity to seize this call to action and pass an Executive Order that lifts the Helms Amendment restrictions and recommits American policy to its humanitarian legal obligations. USAID has already recognized the gravity of the Syrian crisis, both in terms of policy commitment and total aid donations. Now, with the support of the new democratic platform, it must incorporate a gender-sensitive commitment to the women of the Syrian crisis in its aid packages, which must include abortion services as obligated by the Geneva Conventions.

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Global Justice Center and Gender Equality Network Call on the Government of Myanmar to Fulfill Its Obligations to End Discrimination against Women

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—July 1, 2016

[GENEVA] –  On July 7th, Myanmar’s implementation of its obligations to ensure gender equality will be reviewed by the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee). Myanmar ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1997, but this will be the first international women’s rights review of the country since the elections that brought Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) to power.