Ten years ago a member of Congress listened to hours of testimony about the harms and misery inflicted overseas by the Mexico City, commonly known as the global gag rule and offered up a puzzling proposal.
After hearing accounts of its impact — an increase in unintended pregnancies, more unsafe abortions, and a chill on public-health research and discussions — he suggested bringing the harmful policy home and implementing “a Mexico City Policy in the United States.” But as a member of the House minority, he conceded that implementing this policy stateside was “an issue for another day.”
The congressman who made the strange proposal was then-Representative — now-Vice President — Mike Pence. And the “another day” he spoke of is ominously close. Not satisfied with President Trump’s ill-conceived decision to inflict an expanded global gag rule overseas, Pence is attempting to usher in the harmful policy at home.
Vice President Pence’s rare, tie-breaking vote in the Senate on March 30 brought the nation one step closer to his 2007 vision of a Global Gag Rule at home — opening the door to discrimination against providers and threatening their Title X funding for family planning services if they also provide safe abortion services using their own, separate, non-federal funds. His vote paves the way for state politicians to block women from getting the care they need from highly qualified reproductive health care providers.
As horrifying as it was to witness the Trump administration re-impose and expand a policy with a demonstrated track record of harming the health of vulnerable women overseas, it is perhaps even more shocking to see Vice President Pence now threatening to unleash this same harm on American women.
The congressional testimony that Pence heard ten years ago about the impact of the Global Gag Rule was compelling. The policy, which was imposed in 2001 by President George W. Bush, not only prohibited foreign non-governmental organizations from using their own money to provide safe abortion services; it also required health care providers to mislead patients by not counseling them about the full range of legal reproductive health options available to them.
The witnesses included the former Executive Director of the Planned Parenthood Association of Ghana, who explained that the Global Gag Rule stripped contraceptive access from nearly 40,000 women, and had a particularly harmful impact on poor and rural communities.
A Nigerian public health expert concluded that the “Global Gag Rule is one of the most negative international policies damaging public health in developing nations like Nigeria.” And what’s more, a former Reagan administration official testified that the Global Gag Rule did not reduce abortions, but only served to stifle discussion about pressing public health concerns.
The takeaway for most members of the Committee was that the Global Gag Rule was a destructive policy that led to more unintended pregnancies and more abortions — especially more underground, unsafe, dangerous abortions. While most members saw the Global Gag Rule as a policy to be eviscerated, Mike Pence saw it as a policy to be emulated.
The experiences of those who have lived under the Global Gag Rule demonstrate that this policy is destructive. As Pence should have learned in 2007, funding cuts targeting family planning providers jeopardize contraceptive access, harm women’s health, and are likely to increase the number of unsafe abortions. Just as occurred overseas, defunding American reproductive health care providers will widen already-glaring health disparities and erect new barriers to care for low-income and vulnerable people.