Congress hobbled on gag rule

Lacking the votes to override a Bush veto, lawmakers gut bill that could have weakened the deadly "Mexico City policy."

By Lynn Harris

Published December 19, 2007 4:17PM (EST)

Amie Newman at RH Reality Check has the latest on the fate of the global gag rule -- and it doesn't look good. For women, that is. The gag rule (also known more delicately as the "Mexico City policy"), for which we have Ronald Reagan to thank, allows U.S. aid to international family planning agencies only if they restrict their services and abide by "free speech limits that would never hold up under the United States Constitution." Not only can they not provide smashmortion; they can't even discuss it. As Planned Parenthood explains it: "Overseas family planning agencies thus have to choose between accepting U.S. money, which is often their main source of support, or offering their clients comprehensive -- and potentially life-saving -- reproductive health services and information." Expert witnesses at a recent hearing before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs -- the first hearing of its kind in a decade -- pulled no punches about the consequences of the policy: "Women are dying because the U.S. Global Gag Rule is preventing them from getting the reproductive health care and supplies they desperately need to prevent unwanted pregnancies." According to this article in Sunday's Washington Post, which will have you tearing your hair out in fistfuls and then curling up into a ball to weep, children are also born with a death sentence -- or at least the very real prospect of becoming orphans -- to HIV-infected mothers who lost access to birth control when local clinics lost funding. (Said clinics didn't even provide abortions, which, as if things weren't crappy enough, are illegal in Kenya. But other subsidiaries of their London-based parent organization do, in other countries. That's good enough for the gag rule!)

Anyway. The above-mentioned hearing had raised hopes; Dems had shoehorned language into an omnibus spending bill that would invalidate or weaken the policy, or at least provide for a "contraception exemption." But when it came time over the weekend to veto-proof the bill, poof! The language was outta there. The bill passed Monday in the House, leaving the gag rule intact. The Senate is expected to follow suit.

On the upside, Newman notes, the bill nullified (for a year, anyway) the mandate that at least one-third of U.S. HIV prevention funds be used solely for abstinence-only programs. It also increases HIV prevention and family planning funds, though they're still not considered sufficient.

Sen. Hillary Clinton has vowed to, like the Clinton before her, repeal the gag rule as soon as she gets the opportunity. Let's hope she and the other candidates keep talking about what too many family planning clinics can't.

Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

MORE FROM Lynn Harris

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

2008 Elections Abortion Broadsheet Health Hillary Rodham Clinton Love And Sex Ronald Reagan