State Department Global Gag Rule “review” focuses on training, compliance measures

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“Given the expansive nature of the new policy, the Department will undertake a thorough and comprehensive review of the effectiveness and impact of the policy’s application over the next six months, which could include identifying implementation issues, and any other new information affecting implementation going forward. Newly covered programs, including PEPFAR, the President’s Malaria Initiative, and other global health programs, will be given special attention under this review.”

U.S. Department of State, Office of the Spokesperson, May 15, 2017, releasing expanded provisions of the “Mexico City Policy” affecting all U.S. overseas global health funding, titled “Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance.”

Listing measures to ensure compliance with the sweepingly expanded foreign aid restrictions formerly called the “Mexico City Policy,” (and widely known as the “Global Gag Rule”), the U.S. Department of State on Tuesday released what it called a six-month review reporting on “the benefits and challenges” of what it now calls “Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance.”

But rather than the promised examination of the impacts of the rule, which bars U.S.-funded overseas organizations that provide health services from offering information, counseling, or services to terminate pregnancies, the report, at six printed pages, lists training efforts, as well as the numbers of organizations that have lost or continued funding since its application.

While noting that under current funding cycles, the policy has not yet applied to many programs that will be affected by restrictions on either services or funding, the report focuses on potential compliance issues with what it calls efforts “to stop U.S. taxpayer funding from flowing to entities that promote or provide abortions as a method of family planning.” The report refers to “internal and external feedback,” focus groups with in-country programs, calls and meetings with agency staff and affected partners, and written feedback from 31 “stakeholder groups,” but provides just one direct quote from all feedback, that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops called the restriction “one of the most significant policy initiatives on abortion ever taken by the United States in an area of foreign assistance.”

More than 100 health and humanitarian organizations, including ones affected by previous iterations of the rule have reported that the restriction has in the past put sexual and reproductive health services out of reach, leading to increases in abortions as well as unintended pregnancies.

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