A Political Game
The Global Gag Rule remained in place for four years under President Reagan, and another four years under George H.W. Bush. In 1993, when President Clinton took office, the Global Gag Rule was finally rescinded. But when Republicans won control of Congress in 1994, the Global Gag Rule remained high on their agenda. They made yearly efforts to reinstate it, often blocking the release of family planning funding as a bargaining chip. Every year, PAI worked closely with champions in Congress to fight reinstatement of the policy legislatively and to sustain funding for family planning programs.
In 1999 anti-choice Republicans in Congress managed to include a one-year, modified version of the Global Gag Rule in the spending bill for FY 2000 as part of an agreement to pay $1 billion in dues owed to the United Nations. The restriction was not included the following year.
A Chilling Effect
When the Global Gag Rule was in effect, it hurt family planning clinics and organizations and impeded women’s access to health services. Health providers faced a painful choice between losing their funding and losing the freedom to offer their patients a full range of reproductive health services, as well as participate in national debates on abortion.
The ongoing political debates over the Global Gag Rule in Congress and concern that the future election of another anti-choice Republican president, who could reinstate the policy, also had a chilling effect on family planning programs around the world. Even when the policy was not in place, some organizations were still reluctant to take U.S. funding, or partner with U.S. organizations, for fear that support could be subsequently cut off on the whims of politicians in Washington.
“You see, the Global Gag Rule has thrown fears into the hearts of people.”
– Hilary Fyfe, Family Life Movement of Zambia
Those concerns were well founded. On January 20, 2001, President George W. Bush, entered the White House and just two days later, on the anniversary of the historic Roe vs. Wade decision, he signed a presidential memorandum putting the Global Gag Rule back in place. In 2003, the President expanded the Global Gag Rule, applying it to not only to USAID programs but also to State Department “voluntary population planning” activities under the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, including those provided as part of humanitarian relief efforts.