Romney and the Return of the Global Gag Rule

Sadly, I have been pondering the possibility of a Romney win in November. It hadn’t occurred to me, but Romney looks poised to reinstate the “global gag rule.” That is, international groups receiving funds from the United States will be barred from discussing abortion with patients, or risk losing funding.

The past three Republican Presidencies have all used the global gag rule, and Romney promises to bring it back on his first day in office.

Of course, this is fine for domestic right wingers, many of whom have never been to the countries affected by the rule. Romney gets his votes and Christians can go home and sleep happily, knowing that their will, God’s will, has been successfully imposed on hapless poor people in Africa.

Deaths from abortion, often provided untrained individuals under deplorable conditions, are common in Sub Saharan Africa. There were nearly 3,000,000 abortions performed in East Africa in 2008. 36% of these were performed under unsafe conditions. It is estimated that 18% of all maternal deaths in East Africa are due to unsafe abortion practices.

The evidence for wider access to abortion services and reductions in maternal deaths in sub Saharan Africa is out there. South Africa reduced its abortion related mortality rate by 91% following full legalization and the expansion of safe and available abortion providers. Abortion still remains illegal in most sub-Saharan African countries though the extent of the laws vary by country. In some areas with strict laws, governments are known to turn a blind eye to certain NGOs providing services.

While right wingers in the US can smugly claim that their efforts are saving babies, the truth is that women faced with an unwanted pregnancy in Sub Saharan Africa will seek an abortion if they want one. Romney’s vision would leave even victims of rape in conflict ridden areas such as the DRC with no option but obtain a home abortion. Granted, women in these areas have little access to medical care at all, but this restrictive policy only serves to make a bad situation even worse.

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About Peter Larson

Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the Nagasaki University Institute for Tropical Medicine

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