The gag rule is a U.S. policy restricting foreign nongovernmental organizations that receive U.S. global health funds from engaging in abortion-related work—including abortion counseling, referrals, services and lobbying for the liberalization of abortion laws, under most circumstances. The policy was expanded in 2017 under President Trump. Ipas submitted the letter in connection with the State Department’s second annual review of the policy.
“While Ipas does not receive any funding from the U.S. government, we work with many local partners in the global south who do,” says Patty Skuster, Ipas senior legal advisor. She says Ipas staff in Africa and Asia are reporting that the gag rule is negatively affecting the ability of Ipas and local partners to provide abortion and contraceptive services and information.
One clear example, outlined in the letter to the State Department, is in the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh. Since August of 2017, about 700,000 Rohingya have fled violence in Myanmar and are now living in the camps. They include thousands of women and girls, many of whom have suffered rape and sexual violence, who are in need of menstrual regulation (as abortion is known in Bangladesh), postabortion care and contraceptive services.
Even though the gag rule allows grantees receiving U.S. foreign aid to provide abortions when the pregnancy results from rape, incest or life endangerment, nearly every grantee providing health care to Rohingya refugees “refuses to provide abortion care because of the support they receive from the U.S. government,” the Ipas letter says. These grantees are also refusing to accept training and support from Ipas in the provision of abortion and postabortion care, “leaving refugees…without the option to end their pregnancies, even in cases of rape…”
Other problems reported by Ipas include:
- Some grantees affected by the gag rule are simply unaware of the policy and are unwittingly agreeing to terms that preclude their work on abortion.
- Many grantees are misinterpreting the gag rule as a complete ban on abortion-related activities, and as a result are refusing to work with Ipas on activities that actually are allowed by the policy.
- Fear of violating the gag rule has caused one local partner in Bangladesh to stop supplying contraceptive commodities to Ipas, which potentially will lead to stock-outs of contraceptives at some private health facilities.
“On the issue of abortion, in particular, U.S. foreign policy has long been out of step with the rest of the world,” says Skuster. “The expanded gag rule puts the U.S. even further out of step—and is a threat to the health and lives of women and girls in the global south. Ipas and our partners around the world continue to call on the U.S. government to end this harmful policy.”
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