A day after the nation marked the 36th anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision, President Barack Obama rescinded a controversial global gag rule and recommitted U.S. support for comprehensive international family planning.
Abortion foe Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, thrust himself into the spotlight this week with a well-publicized letter to Obama urging that the rule remain in place. Sadly, Lamborn, as well as Reuters and other media outlets, got the facts completely wrong.
As the Guttmacher Institute notes: The global gag rule — also known as the Mexico City policy where it was unveiled in 1984 during a U.N. conference — prohibited overseas organizations from receiving U.S. family planning assistance if they used their non-U.S. funds to provide abortion information, services or counseling, or engaged in any abortion rights advocacy.
Thus, the moniker “gag rule” which prevents talk or advocacy.
The 1973 Helms Amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act expressly bans U.S. taxpayer dollars from being used to support abortion services in foreign health clinics. Repealing the Mexico City policy would do nothing to change this prohibition, writes Third Way, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank.
That distinction might be where dean of Colorado’s Republican delegation and the media got a little confused — there are two entirely different issues at play here. One is the gag rule. The other is a political presidential decision about whether to financially support the United Nations Population Fund under the guidelines of the Helms restrictions. Apples and oranges.
Unfortunately, that conflation of the facts about the global gag rule was widely distributed by antiabortion activists who cheered Lamborn’s efforts.
The letter urging Obama to retain the Mexico City Policy [PDF] authored by Lamborn, signed by 78 lawmakers and sent to the president, contributes to the broad inaccuracies.
Lamborn explains on his congressional Web site why annuling the gag rule is a bad idea:
Not only is it inappropriate for the federal government to fund abortionists in the United States, but there is certainly no place for taxpayer-funded abortions overseas. Many Americans are not even aware that their hard-earned dollars are being exported to support this abhorrent practice.
The exportation of abortions is change we do not want.
Unfortunately, that muddled-thinking continued when Lamborn weighed in on the matter on the House floor Wednesday:
Unaddressed by Lamborn and his letter-signing cohorts is that the Reagan, Bush I and Bush II administrations all de-funded U.N. family planning programs in 150 poor countries that prevented unintended pregnancies, dangerous back-alley abortions and maternal-child deaths. Obama’s second action Friday was to re-institute that funding.
As Guttmacher writes:
There is overwhelming evidence that helping women avoid becoming pregnant too early, too late or too often benefits them and their children. Currently, 500 million women in the developing world are using some form of family planning, thereby preventing 187 million unintended pregnancies, 60 million unplanned births, 105 million induced abortions, 2.7 million infant deaths and 215,000 maternal deaths (which would leave 685,000 children motherless) each year.
However, another 200 million women throughout the developing world who would like to delay or limit their births lack access to contraceptives. Filling the unmet need for contraceptives would further reduce global rates of maternal mortality by 35% and would lower the overall number of abortions by 64%, many of which would have been unsafe abortions. More than 95% of abortions in Africa and Latin America are performed under unsafe circumstances, as are about 60% of abortions in Asia. Almost 70,000 women die each year from complications following unsafe abortions, and thousands more suffer serious, permanent injuries.
Originally a Reagan-era incarnation, the gag rule was repealed by President Bill Clinton and then reinstated by President George W. Bush on the first day of his administration in 2001. Though both the gag rule and funding, or lack thereof, of the U.N. family-planning program has ping-ponged back and forth for 25 years the gist of the two regulations hasn’t changed. And American taxpayers are still not paying for abortions in foreign clinics.