Global Gag Rule Gone for Now; Congress Must End It for Good

Like literally millions (and probably billions) of people around the world, I breathed an enormous sigh of relief at the inauguration of President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. The perpetual nightmare that was Donald Trump’s administration is over—and may we never see its like again. But much of the harm wrought by his malevolent narcissism and incompetence remains.

President Biden took a major step toward repairing the damage when he signed an order this afternoon overturning the Global Gag Rule. First put in place under Ronald Reagan in 1984, the Global Gag Rule prohibits U.S. funding for foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that provide abortion services, offer counseling or referral for abortion services, or engage in any political activity in support of abortion rights—even when they do so with their own separate, non-U.S. funds. Since the Reagan administration, every Democratic president has rescinded the rule, while every Republican president has reinstated it. Donald Trump was no exception, not only imposing the rule on his first day in office, but also radically expanding it over the course of his term. Under previous administrations, the rule applied to family planning funding through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)—roughly $575 million. Under Trump, the rule applied to all global health funding—some $8.8 billion. He attempted to expand the rule even further in the waning days of his administration, though, fortunately, he ran out of time.

The Global Gag Rule is an ugly, pointlessly cruel policy that has hurt tens of millions of people over the years, and President Biden’s move today is welcome and worthy of celebration. But it isn’t enough. We can’t let today’s victory make us complacent. The Global Gag Rule is gone for now, but as long as the threat of its eventual return remains, our work isn’t done.

Reintroduced today in both the House and Senate, the Global Health, Empowerment and Rights (Global HER) Act (S. 142 / H.R. 556) would prevent a future president from unilaterally reinstating the Global Gag Rule. With majorities in both chambers and a president on the record in favor of the bill, there’s no reason we can’t pass it this year. But it’s only going to happen if we’re willing to fight for it. There are a lot of problems competing for attention on the Hill right now—serious ones. It’s going to be so tempting for busy legislators to look at this bill and decide the threat is too distant to worry about today.

We have to remind them. We know how quickly things can change. Until the Global Her Act is passed, the Global Gag Rule is one presidential signature away from returning. We can’t let it happen. We have to keep pushing forward, every step of the way, until the Global Gag Rule is gone for good.

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