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The Biden administration is trying to regain the U.S.'s stature as a world leader on abortion rights. Photo: Sual Loeb/Getty Images

Biden ends global gag rule of U.S. support for worldwide abortion efforts

The “Mexico City Policy” has been repealed and re-implemented two previous times under past administrations.

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On Thursday Jan. 28, President Joe Biden signed an executive order repealing the Mexico City Policy, also known as the global gag rule, which obstructed any U.S. federal funding for NGOs around the world that provide abortion counseling or referrals, advocacy for abortion decriminalization, or expanded abortion services. 

In addition, he ordered the restoration of funding to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which Trump had cut off in a dispute over abortion provisions. 

Biden also focused on making it easier to receive reproductive care nation-wide. 

He encouraged the Department of Health and Human Services to overturn the “domestic gag rule,” — the destructive Trump administration reconstruction of regulations governing the Title X national family planning program. 

The domestic gag rule made it illegal for healthcare providers to tell patients how and where to get abortion access safely and legally, prevented patients from obtaining full and accurate information about all their options, and added new restrictions designed to block patients from going to Planned Parenthood

The rule was first enacted by the Reagan administration in 1985 and since then, it has been rescinded by two Democratic presidents, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and put back in place by two Republican presidents, George W. Bush and Donald Trump. 

The decades of political whiplash concerning the gag rule has taken a major toll on sexual and reproductive rights around the world, as organizations scrambled to secure funding, or adjust what services they could provide. 

 

Despite its primary focus on limiting U.S.-funded support for abortions, research has shown that it adversely impacts all services involving sexual and reproductive health, stopped or reduced U.S.-funded HIV programs, and leads to more abortions

Worldwide, around 48% of pregnancies are unintended, and of those, about 60% end in abortions, amounting to about 73 million abortions each year, according to Zara Ahmed, associate director of federal issues at the Guttmacher Institute

“There is no evidence that abortion rates are lower where it’s restricted,” she said. “In fact, abortion rates are lowest in high-income countries where abortion is broadly believed to be legal, but almost four times higher in low-income countries where it is heavily restricted.” 

Despite these facts, the Trump administration’s anti-abortion agenda made serious impacts on global reproductive care. In 2017, he eliminated funding for the UNFPA. 

Following Thursday’s announcement, UNFPA Executive Director Natalia Kanem said that she was excited to get back to work. 

“The U.S has such a big role to play as a global leader and as a defender of the rights of women and girls,” she said. 

The United States was a founding member of UNFPA and provided them $69 million in 2016. Once reinstated, the money could be used in a myriad of beneficial ways to support the health, autonomy and rights of women and girls around the world. 

It could be used to prevent 1.4 million unintended pregnancies, 32,000 unsafe abortions, and provide care to 4.2 million women and girls within one year, according to Eddie Wright, a spokesperson for UNFPA. 

Bridget Todd, communications director at a leading national women’s advocacy organization, UltraViolet, released a statement applauding Biden’s bold and necessary move, but making it clear that much more will be required to undo all the damage. 

“As the world works to rebuild from the devastation of this pandemic, an economic crisis, and centuries of systemic racism, we must continue to cement these rights and dismantle the policies implemented by men like Donald Trump to deny the world’s most vulnerable communities the right to abortion and other critical forms of reproductive healthcare in the U.S and abroad,” she said.

UltraViolet, which is part of the Blueprint for Sexual and Reproductive Health, Rights and Justice coalition, is urging the new administration to keep up the momentum towards reproductive justice. 

They are encouraging them to dismantle any unnecessary restrictions on abortion access that pose causeless risks to patients during this pandemic and to deliver a budget proposal to expand abortion access to people with low incomes. 

Nonhlanhla Skosana, the Education and Mobilisation Unit Manager for the South African Sonke Gender Justice Community also commended the decision. 

“It will bring back their dignity and right to live. Young women lost their lives using backyard abortion services because of the fact that most community-based organization who were providing reproductive care had to close down,” said Skosana. “This then says to us as civil society organizations, we need to continue to advocate for the rights of women and girls to be able to access the sexual and reproductive health services and engage our government in those issues.” 

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