Thursday, 15 November 2012

A Second Term for Obama Means a Safer World for Women

As someone who has always been quite passionate about America’s politics, I have often been asked why I am ‘so bothered’. As many people already know or at least suspect, what happens in the White House has a broad impact on the rest of the world. Unbeknown to many, this impact extends into the delicate issues that surround women’s health, thanks to something known as ‘The Global Gag Rule’.

The Global Gag Rule was introduced by President Reagan in the 80s. It stated that any international NGO in receipt of US financial aid had two options regarding abortion:

1. They would either have to stay absolutely clear of the issue. This would mean no advice for women seeking one, no research into the effects, and no assistance for those who needed, or had had one.
2. Alternatively, continue working on such issues, and face losing any aid received from the US.

Clearly, this would place any NGO between a rock and a hard place. The two options above translate to either risking the lives of women while operating, or risking the funds required to execute other services, such as maternal care during pregnancy, and family planning advice pertaining to contraceptives.

Technically, the rule was beyond pointless for hard line Republicans wanting to stop abortions worldwide. It has been illegal for US federal funds to be used for such services since the 70s, which means US aid would not contribute to the pro-choice activities of any organisation anyway. However, this has not satisfied presidents like Reagan and Bush; despite NGOs using only their own money for abortion services, and a combination of US aid and other funding sources for other life saving treatments, the Republicans wanted to ‘gag’ them anyway. Fundamentally, this was a breach of their right to freedom of speech: they were not using US funds illegally, they were only using their own for abortion services, yet the Republicans wanted to hold them over a barrell anyway.

Naturally, this had quite an effect. Under George Bush Jnr, clinics across Africa were closed, most notably in Kenya--where many services suffered. This left women facing the perils associated with pregnancy without the care they required. In Nigeria, over 3000 women a year die due to not being able to access safe abortion services. The Global Gag Rule silenced those who were willing to advocate on their behalf and bring the changes that could save their lives.

After Bush was out of office, Obama brought change. It was estimated that his repeal of this rule meant that 32,000 less women died as a result of pregnancy and childbirth. That’s tens of thousands of children who now have mothers to care for them and help them flourish.

During the 2012 presidential election, both Romney and Ryan made it very clear that reinstating the Global Gag Rule would be high on their agenda. Not only that, but they also wanted to make it legislation rather than a presidential preference. This would have dire consequences for years to come, as any subsequent president would be faced with the task of picking this legislation apart. However, now that Obama has four more years, we can breathe a sigh of relief for those women who rely on US funds to contribute to the NGOs that will save their lives. In those four years, it is the responsibility of campaigners and activists at a grassroots level, as well as governments and organisations like the UN, to bring the changes required to make sure women no longer have to suffer and anticipate harmful policies by men like Reagan, Bush, and Romney.

By Laura McKeever

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