The Global Gag Rule: Is the End Near?

Reaching Out Volume 29, Spring 2008 |

In the first week of September, the U.S. Senate, following the lead of the U.S. House of Representatives, passed a bill which would repeal the Global Gag Rule. This was the first time in the sordid history of the Global Gag Rule that both houses of Congress went on record as opposing it.

The main consequence of the 2006 Congressional elections was that the Democrats took over both the House and Senate. This meant that the Democrats would control the legislative agenda. It did not mean that there was a pro-choice majority in each chamber, since not all Democratic Representatives were pro-choice. Because of the influx of new members, the Democratic leadership, who were staunchly pro-choice, did not know on international issues how many pro-choice votes they had.

Therefore, in the House of Representatives, the proponents of overturning the Global Gag Rule moved cautiously. They proposed the Lowey Amendment which exempted contraceptives from the Global Gag Rule. This meant that U.S. foreign aid could go to organizations that would otherwise be prohibited from receiving funds under the Global Gag Rule, if the funds were used exclusively to purchase contraceptives. In June, the Lowey Amendment passed and represented a partial repeal of the Global Gag Rule.

The Foreign Aid Bill then went to the Senate. The pro-choice leaders in the Senate could afford to go for broke, because there had been favorable votes in the Senate two years before opposing the Global Gag Rule. Senator Barbara Boxer’s proposed repeal of the Global Gag Rule won by a 53-41 margin.

Because the House and Senate versions of the Foreign Aid Bill differed, the bill was sent to a Conference Committee to iron out the differences. There it sits. No matter which way the Committee decides, the President has threatened a veto if the Global Gag Rule is weakened in any way. Neither chamber has the two-thirds votes necessary to override his veto and thus the Global Gag Rule will remain law, until there is a new occupant in the White House.

Even though the Global Gag Rule was designed to prevent abortion, there is no evidence that it has. We believe that
the Gag Rule is only effective in reducing contraceptive use, thereby leading to more unwanted pregnancies, more unsafe abortions, and more maternal morbidity and mortality. Senator Boxer said most eloquently in her floor speech: "What we’re saying in our amendment is we believe in human rights…We believe other countries should have the same freedoms that we have in this country. And if we can’t gag people in this country, let’s not do it abroad just because we can."


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