January 29, 2021
President Joseph Biden on Thursday rolled back the global gag rule that his predecessor—President Trump put in place, which bars international nonprofit organizations that provide abortion counseling or referrals from receiving funding from the U.S government.
“[This] executive order gets the United States back on the right track to support access to essential health services, including contraception and broader sexual and reproductive health services in low- and middle-income countries,” said Megan O’Donnell, Assistant Director of Gender Program and Senior Analyst at the Center for Global Development, a Washington-based think tank.
She added that the Biden-Harris Administration must seize the moment to go a step farther by working with Congress to pass a law that would “stop the political whiplash the global gag rule has brought for decades as Republican presidents have imposed the policy and Democrats have repealed it.”
“Rolling back the harmful impacts of the Mexico City Policy (the global gag rule) will take time—especially because the Trump Administration was unprecedented in expanding its reach past family planning organizations to other health providers.,” said O’Donnell. “But President Biden’s rollback of the policy is a positive first step towards ensuring that U.S. foreign assistance will be more effective in supporting health-focused NGOs, and ultimately improving the health and well-being of women and girls, in Africa and globally.”
The U.S. is the largest donor, globally, to both maternal health and discretionary family planning programs, including the provision of life-saving health care services in crisis settings.
The Trump administration imposed the Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance policy immediately after it took office in 2017 as a way of policing nonprofit organizations such as Planned Parenthood and to safeguard its pro-life agenda at home and abroad.
O’Donnell noted that the imposition of the global gag rule has been proven entirely counter-productive. A CGD research shows that it made the abortion rate in sub-Saharan Africa increase by 40 percent when access to contraception and counseling services were cut off, and not to mention constrain individuals’ access to other essential health services.
“In the Biden-Harris administration, the empowerment and protection of women and girls, including promoting their sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, is a central part of U.S. foreign policy and national security,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement shortly after President Biden signed the executive order. “Today’s action by President Biden will help improve the lives of women and children around the world by expanding the base of partners implementing U.S. health assistance and increasing access to critical health services, including HIV/AIDS care for key populations, family planning information and services, and effective tuberculosis diagnosis and treatment.”
President Biden’s executive order empowers the State Department and other federal agencies, including the U.S. Agency for International Development, to continue the nation’s efforts to strengthen health systems worldwide for women and girls through partnerships with local governments, civil societies, international and local NGOs and the private sector to raise health outcomes, invest in socioeconomic and development projects that will increase the quality of life as well as empower women and girls.
Underscoring U.S.’s recommitment to enhancing global health, Secretary Blinken announced Thursday that the department will deploy the $32.5 million that was appropriated by Congress for this fiscal year to support the United Nations Population Fund.
“UNFPA’s work is essential to the health and well-being of women around the world and directly supports the safety and prosperity of communities around the globe, especially in the context of the global COVID-19 pandemic,” said the American top Diplomat.
Experts called President Biden’s latest executive order the most fundamental boost to women’s and girls’ empowerment, gender equality agenda and to the global health systems.
O’Donnell said this executive order not only advance universal health coverage and better access to affordable care for people in Africa as well as other developing countries, it gives health-NGOs that are based in the U.S. the incentives to operate without fear of retribution.
“Health NGOs with offices in the United States but operating globally have been forced to comply with the global gag rule when Republican presidents have imposed it, limiting their efficacy in providing health services to people worldwide. With President Biden’s repeal of the policy, and even better, a more permanent repeal through legislation, these U.S. NGOs – as well as those based abroad – will be more effective in ensuring people have access to the full array of health services they need,” said O’Donnell.
Secretary Blinken stated that America will also withdraw co-sponsorship and signature from the Geneva Consensus Declaration in a timely and appropriate manner.
O’Donnell added that she’s encouraged by the Biden administration’s new national strategy for COVID-19 response and pandemic preparedness – and particularly its focus on collaborating with global partners to beat a global disease, as well as acknowledging the gendered nature of the COVID crisis, through its recognition of the ‘shadow pandemic’ of gender-based violence and potential disruptions to maternal, sexual, and reproductive health services as health workers have had to focus attention on COVID.
“I look forward to seeing more details of how the strategy will be resourced and implemented to ensure the health, safety, and broader well-being of women and girls in the U.S. and globally,” she said.