What is the Global Gag Rule?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The Global Gag Rule is an American policy which prohibits the distribution of foreign aid to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working overseas which offer abortions and abortion counseling, or lobby to make abortion legal and more accessible. This policy has a direct effect on family planning and public health in many nations in the developing world, where NGOs have historically relied heavily on foreign aid from donors like the United States for their programs. As a result, the Global Gag Rule has been heavily criticized by women's rights activists, family planning advocates, and members of the public health community.

The Golden Gag Rule is officially known as the Mexico City Policy because of the city where it was first announced.
The Golden Gag Rule is officially known as the Mexico City Policy because of the city where it was first announced.

Officially, the Global Gag Rule is known as the Mexico City Policy. It is named for the city where it was first announced in 1984 by then-President Ronald Reagan at the United Nations International Conference on Population. The popular term “Gag Rule” is a reference to the fact that the Mexico City Policy interferes with free speech by obliging organizations which receive American aid to refrain from discussing abortion when considering family planning options. In 1993, President William Jefferson Clinton repealed the Mexico City Policy, arguing that it was too restrictive, but this repeal was reversed in 2001 by President George Bush.

The effects of the Global Gag Rule can hamper disadvantaged women's access to prenatal services.
The effects of the Global Gag Rule can hamper disadvantaged women's access to prenatal services.

The immediate effect of the Global Gag Rule was to force a difficult choice for NGOs. Organizations could agree to the terms of the Gag Rule, often restructuring their programs to accommodate it, or they could reject the Global Gag Rule, thereby losing funding, and often being forced to close or curtail their operations due to lack of ability to make up for the shortfall. In addition to losing valuable funding, these organizations would also miss out on technical expertise and donations of supplies such as condoms from the United States.

For women, the Global Gag Rule has profound implications. Without access to family planning, women are not empowered to control the spacing and numbers of their children. They may also lack access to prenatal care and women's health care programs which could catch hazardous medical conditions before they become serious. Illegal abortions also threaten women's health, by exposing women to unsanitary and potentially dangerous conditions.

Public health advocates are also concerned about the Gag Rule, because the lack of access to condoms and sexual education leaves communities vulnerable to HIV/AIDS and other STIs. The poorest citizens may lack even rudimentary education and medical care, and these citizens are often more in need of these services than anyone else.

There is an exception in the Gag Rule for abortions as a result of rape, incest, or life-threatening medical conditions. However, organizations which accept foreign aid often refrain from performing or recommending abortions in these cases out of fear that they might lose their funding. Many public health advocates fear that compromises like this forced on healthcare providers by the Global Gag Rule are not only unreasonable, but also potentially dangerous.

An exception to the Gag Rule is pregnancy as a result of rape or incest.
An exception to the Gag Rule is pregnancy as a result of rape or incest.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


@KoiwiGal - I can see why a country as a whole might not want to fund abortions, even though I'm relatively pro-choice. But sometimes it's a medical issue. Sometimes the woman is just going to die if there is no abortion and that means the baby will die too. Like when there is an ectopic pregnancy or there is some kind of miscarriage already happening.

I would be worried that this kind of global gag rule would be interpreted to deny health care to women in these sorts of situations, which is essentially sentencing them to death.

I don't believe in abortion in general, but medical care is complex and I just don't think the government should issue laws like that which could be interpreted in dangerous ways.


@croydon - The thing is, the fact that it targets even education is what really gets to me. Because nothing should do that. No country should have the right to tell anyone what they can and can't learn, whether or not they want to be able to legislate action.

Even those who are pro-life should realize that.

Because women without education on this are simply going to end up using terrible alternatives to medical abortion, as they have for thousands of years. Denying them education only makes it so that both fetus and mother are likely to die.


Honestly, this is actually kind of horrifying. I had no idea that this existed. I'm not a huge fan of abortion in general and I'm not sure it should necessarily be something that the USA funds overseas, but so very many organizations will offer it along with other reproductive and just general health care and the idea that they miss out on funding for doing that is just wrong. Abortions aren't exactly popular among the general public anywhere in the world. This global gag rule doesn't seem like it would do anything except harm organizations that need aid for important work.

Post your comments
Forgot password?