Written by: Graham Lister, Chair of BoT

The Global Gag Rule, which withholds US health AID from any organisation making any sort of reference to or advice on abortion, will have a devastating effect on the lives and health of millions of people, as explained in the recent Guardian article  here. This rule has been applied by Republican Administrations since it was first introduced by Ronald Regan in 1984. This time the restriction has been applied not only to $595m for Family Planning Services but all $9.5 billion US health Aid. This means any health service making mention of safe abortion services may expect a sudden funding cut. This will disrupt the provision of family planning services, condom provision, HIV/AIDs services, health support for LGBT+ people and many other basic health services. As a consequence it is likely to increase unplanned pregnancy and unsafe abortion rates.

The reason for the Gag Rule lies in US domestic politics, the “Roe vs Wade” ruling by the US Supreme Court in 1973, that legalised access to safe abortion services is still contentious. Abortion has come back into the news with the death last week of the original “Jane Roe” – Norma McCorvey, who argued on both sides of this issue following her religious conversion. Currently Gallup Polls suggest only 19% of Americans believe abortion should be illegal in all circumstances in the US, 50% say it should be legal in some circumstances and 29% say it should be legal in all circumstances. However, those opposed to all abortion are a powerful minority within the Republican Party.

In response the Netherlands Government is currently leading a coalition of more than 20 countries to establish a safe abortion fund to plug the estimated $600 million gap in aid funding and to send a message of support for countries and agencies that need this support. They are seeking the widest possible support for this initiative. Perhaps a Medsin Member would like to start a movement to get students to sign up and support this initiative. Though the amount of money that students could be expected to raise will naturally be limited, the act of providing a donation, however small, and signing an online petition would show solidarity with the millions of women and people of all genders who will suffer as a result of the Global Gag.

My experience of working with the IPPF and health services and communities in Africa and Asia suggests that even a small donation can make a difference and messages of support and solidarity really are felt even in remote communities. Abortion is not an easy option in any community and the circumstances that lead to such difficult decisions must be stressed. Those Medsin Members who have seen the world through electives or travel will know this.


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