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President Biden Revokes The Global Gag Rule, Expanding Reproductive Health Care

A doctor shows a patient notes in an examination room.

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Key Takeaways

  • President Biden issued a memorandum revoking the global gag rule, freeing up funding for healthcare providers around the world that provide information about or access to abortions.
  • The memorandum also puts forward an investigation into harmful policies restricting Title X funding in the United States.
  • These steps help to create expanded access to sexual health education and care.

In a memorandum released late last week, President Joseph Biden revoked the global gag rule, expanding funding to healthcare providers across the world that provide abortion education and services. It also initiated a review of policy excluding domestic family planning services from receiving Title X funding if they provide or refer patients to abortion services. 

In 1984, President Ronald Reagan was the first to implement the global gag rule, also known as the Mexico City Policy. The ruling prohibits legal abortion services, referrals, or advocacy for abortion law reform by foreign non-government agencies (NGOs) receiving global health assistance from the United States government.

“This policy devastated underserved communities and impacted health care programs across 64 countries,” says Emma Corbett, director of communications at Planned Parenthood Empire State Acts. “It silenced health centers and forced some to shut down completely, blocking millions from healthcare access.”

 The Gag Rule and Title X Restrictions

Since Reagan, Biden’s democrat predecessors, presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, also rescinded the global gag rule shortly after taking office. Former President Donald Trump reinstated and expanded the ruling, first in 2017 to include anyone who received global health funding from the U.S. In 2019, the administration went on to restrict any organization that received money from providing any funding to organizations that gave information about or performed abortions. This policy attempted to control the practices of organizations that are not recipients of funding from the U.S.

Trump’s administration also restricted Title X funding, a program designed to help low-income people receive affordable birth control and reproductive health care. As a result, in 2019 about 25% of Title X providers left the network, lowering the program’s ability to provide contraceptive services by about 46%. In some states, such as Maine and Utah, Title X network capacity decreased by 100%.

In the new memorandum, President Joseph Biden stated, “These excessive conditions on foreign and development assistance undermine the United States’ efforts to advance gender equality globally by restricting our ability to support women’s health and programs that prevent and respond to gender-based violence.”

In reference to Trump’s additional policies, he continued, “The expansion of the policy has also affected all other areas of global health assistance, limiting the United States’ ability to work with local partners around the world and inhibiting their efforts to confront serious health challenges such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria, among others.”

The Detriment of the Gag Rule To Women’s Reproductive Rights

Without access to reproductive services and abortion, parents and children face dangerous circumstances. Dr. Lea Lis, a board-certified psychiatrist, says these consequences can range from poverty and neglect to abuse, drug addiction, and crime.

While Lis previously referred teenage patients to Planned Parenthood and similar organizations, the cuts in funding created little to no options in her community for people to receive low-cost contraception or STD testing.

Contrary to what a lot of political discourse suggests, organizations like Planned Parenthood do a lot more for the health of young women and girls than provide information about or access to abortion. That includes helping to provide care for young pregnant women.

Additionally, research has long enforced the idea that restricting access to contraception and abortion does not stop the procedure from occurring, but instead leads to potentially dangerous versions. In a 2011 study from the World Health Organization, researchers determined the odds of having an induced abortion rose 1.21 times higher for every year an area had high exposure to the global gag rule, compared to areas with little exposure. In these regions, the prevalence of contraceptive use dropped as well.

Benefits of Biden's Policies For Family Planning 

Accessible and affordable sexual education and health care can have tremendous benefits for all. “It's all about informed consent. Being informed of all choices and making the best choice for you and your partner and your family,” says Lis. “It also means that teenagers anxious to start sexual exploration will have easier access to low-cost reproductive health options like birth control, so their sexual debut doesn’t end in a life-long commitment they were not planning.”

The right contraception and reproductive health care are different for everyone. Having affordable access to the options out there allows a person to take control of their choices and future.

“This includes access to a growing variety of contraception options such as long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs), shots, patches, pills, and more. It also includes emergency contraception, medication abortion, and in-clinic abortion care,” says Corbett. “This ultimately results in fewer unintended pregnancies, greater economic stability, and the ability to plan for our work, education, and families.”

What This Means For You

The Biden administration considers access to information about abortion and the procedure itself part of comprehensive reproductive health care. Under this policy and those to come, advocates hope reproductive health care will become more affordable and attainable.


 


   

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  1. Bendavid E, Avila P, Miller G. United States aid policy and induced abortion in sub-Saharan Africa. Bull World Health Organ. 2011;89:873-880. doi:10.2471/BLT.11.091660

  2. Guttmacher Institute. Trump administration's domestic gag rule has slashed the Title X network's capacity by half. Updated January 28, 2021.

  3. Janaik E, O-Donnell J, Holt K. Proposed Title X regulatory changes: silencing health care providers and undermining quality of care. Women's Health Issues. 2018;28(6:477-479. doi:10.1016/j.whi.2018.08.003