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.
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 In 1993, President William Jefferson Clinton repealed the Mexico City Policy, arguing that it was too restrictive, but this repeal was reversed in 2001 by President George Bush.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 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.