The March 2021 issue of Population Connection magazine is live online today, and hard copies have already started arriving in mailboxes. This issue is a celebration of the change in presidential administration and the new reproductive health-supporting Congress and what this new representation in Washington, DC, means for the family planning programs that help women and couples in the United States and around the world choose whether, when, and with whom to have children. On average, being able to make these choices for themselves leads people to have smaller families. And when people have smaller families, fertility rates decline and the world gets closer to population stabilization.
The two feature articles in this issue are mostly focused on President Biden’s repeal of the cruel Global Gag Rule and the continued need for the United States Congress to pass the Global Health, Empowerment, and Rights (HER) Act, which was reintroduced in both houses of Congress on January 28, 2021 (the same day President Biden rescinded the Global Gag Rule). The Senate bill (S. 142) was introduced by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and has 46 co-sponsors. The House bill (H.R. 556) was introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA-13) and has 180 co-sponsors. Please use our petition to either thank your legislators for already being co-sponsors or to ask them to become co-sponors—we need all the support we can get to finally make this bill law and enact a permanent congressional repeal to the Global Gag Rule!
At the time of our print deadline (February 17), the bill to repeal the Helms Amendment had not yet been introduced to the new Congress. On March 9, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL-9) reintroduced the Abortion Is Health Care Everywhere Act (H.R. 1670), which already has 143 co-sponsors. At present, there is no companion bill in the Senate. Please sign our petition to request that your representative become a co-sponsor!
It’s easy to get confused by the specifics of the Global Gag Rule vis-à-vis the Helms Amendment, since they are both U.S. policies that affect how international family planning assistance can be spent by the foreign NGOs that receive our global health assistance. Here’s a quick disambiguation:
The Helms Amendment has been part of the Foreign Assistance Act since it was introduced by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC) in 1973. It prevents U.S. foreign aid from being used to “pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions.” The amendment has always been interpreted as an outright ban on funding abortion, even in cases of rape, incest, fetal anomaly, or threat to the pregnant person’s health or life. The Abortion Is Health Care Everywhere Act (H.R. 1670) is the bill that would repeal the Helms Amendment.
The Global Gag Rule was first introduced by Ronald Reagan in 1984 as an executive action, meaning that it is enacted and rescinded at the discretion of the sitting president and that imposing and ending the policy does not require any action from Congress. The Global Gag Rule, when it is in place, as it has been every time a Republican has been in the White House since Reagan, prohibits family planning funding to foreign NGOs that do any work related to safe abortion, whether it’s providing actual abortion procedures, counseling patients on abortion as a pregnancy option, referring patients to other providers for abortion counseling or procedures, or advocating for more progressive abortion laws in their own countries. The prohibition on funding applies even if NGOs do any of these activities with their own, non-U.S. funds. Under Donald Trump, the Global Gag Rule was expanded to apply to all global health funding, when it had previously “only” applied to family planning funding. The Global HER Act (S. 142/H.R. 556) is the bill that would repeal the Global Gag Rule.
The timing of the publication of this issue of Population Connection magazine perfectly coincides with our 2021 Digital Capitol Hill Days, which runs from March 17–22. The priority deadline to register has passed, so we can’t guarantee meetings with your members of Congress on Monday, March 22, but you can still register to attend the panels each day. This year, Capitol Hill Days participants are asking their members of Congress to support the Global HER Act and to increase international family planning funding to $1.74 billion (including $116 million for UNFPA)—the U.S. fair share cost of fulfilling unmet need for family planning in the developing world. Please use this issue of the magazine as a resource when preparing for your virtual meetings on Capitol Hill!