Surely you have heard that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives has voted to reinstate the Global Gag Rule that prevents any family planning agencies that provide information about abortion service from receiving any U.S. foreign aid.
Who gets hurt? Women, children and anyone who believes the conversation about women’s issues needs to move forward.
But once again, that conversation has been hijacked by the right-wing strategy to frame deeper issues related to women and families in terms of a women’s right to choose. For a refresher, let’s look at the vote by Michele Bachmann and others on the right to defund Planned Parenthood — even though abortions only make up 10 percent of the services it provides to women without other means of health care, and that abortion services receive no federal funding. As we wrote before:
I know of one woman, in fact, whose life may have been saved by Planned Parenthood. She discovered a lump in her breast shortly after losing her work-related health insurance. Where did she turn for a mammogram? Yep, Planned Parenthood, which ultimately shepherded her through the scary process of not only the diagnostics, but ultimately surgery, chemo and radiation.
The Global Gag Rule has been the ball in a decades-long — and ugly — game of political ping-pong since Ronald Reagan was in office. Here’s a little bit of the backstory, courtesy of the Center for American Progress:
The global gag rule—first instated by President Ronald Reagan in 1984, rescinded by President Bill Clinton in 1993, re-imposed by President George W. Bush in 2001, and rescinded again by President Barack Obama in 2009—prevents U.S. family planning assistance from going to organizations that perform or provide information about or referrals to legal abortion services. What’s more, organizations that receive funds cannot use their own money to provide abortion-related information or services, or advocate for liberalized abortion laws. The rule imposes no similar restrictions on advocacy against such laws. When in force, the global gag rule comes on top of the Helms amendment, the 1973 law that prohibits direct U.S. funding of abortions overseas.
Under the global gag rule, these organizations face a choice: either participate in the American right’s global campaign to restrict women’s rights and access to reproductive health care or lose critical U.S. funding.
That funding is crucial for agencies that cover a number of issues related to healthy women and children. Like clean water. Sanitation. The current rule, which primarily affects women in developing nations, is even more draconian than George W. Bush’s version, which at least made an exemption for HIV/AIDS education. This new iteration of the rule does not. But there’s more. What also gets cut out of the equation when these agencies are defunded is access to contraception. Back to the Center for American Progress:
And there is clear evidence that access to family planning improves women’s health and overall well-being. Maternal mortality rates see significant reductions when women can control the timing and spacing of their pregnancies. Access to family planning can help women avoid the pregnancy-related complications some 15 million women confront every year. And when women have the resources to control their fertility, they can take advantage of educational and economic opportunities that benefit not only women but their families and communities as well.
Ironically, the Guttmacher Institute has found that when abortion becomes illegal, abortions don’t decrease — they just become dangerous. Life-threatening, actually. And what better way to avoid abortions than to provide contraceptive services. No brainer, right? Go figure. (In fact, here in the U.S., the Institute of Medicine recently came out with guidelines that urge health insurance under the Affordable Care Act to include FDA approved contraception as preventative care. Why? Proper spacing of pregnancies can prevent a host of serious health risks for both mother and child.)
But what makes us even more angry is the way the debate on abortion sucks the energy out of the fight for a better world for women and children — here and abroad. Suddenly, regardless of where we stand on a women’s right to choose, we’re in a defensive position.
And that’s important because it means they control the conversation. Our attention spans are shorter, we live in a soundbyte society, and so there’s no room for nuanced discussion. Point, counterpoint. And when we’re on the defensive, there’s no space to speak to other issues, let alone attempt to reframe the whole conversation.
We’re gagged, in more ways than one.