Will Barack Obama reverse the global gag rule?

On his first day in office in 2001, President George W. Bush  reinstated the so-called Mexico City Policy — known to critics as the global gag rule. It prevents the US government from giving money to organizations that provide counseling and referral for abortion, lobby to make abortion legal or more available in their country, or perform abortions except in cases of a threat to the woman’s life, rape or incest (even if those activities are funded by somebody else).

On Development Drums this week, we heard about the impact of the global gag rule on women in Africa, in an interview with Dana Hovig from Marie Stopes International. (Full disclosure: my partner works for MSI.)  My expert guests were sceptical that Barack Obama would give priority to reversing the global gag rule any time soon.

But this weekend, we have heard that Obama is preparing to reverse some key decisions that President Bush took using executive authority, including on stem cell research, oil and gas drilling and – according to the Washington Post, the New York Times and Bloomberg – the global gag rule:

President-elect Barack Obama will reverse U.S. family-planning and AIDS-prevention strategies that have long linked global funding to anti-abortion and abstinence education, a public-health adviser said. Obama “is committed to looking at all this and changing the policies so that family-planning services — both in the U.S. and the developing world — reflect what works, what helps prevent unintended pregnancy, reduce maternal and infant mortality, prevent the spread of disease,” Wood said.

These seems like a good time to raise the profile of this important issue, to make sure that reversing the global gag rule is on the list of decisions for President Obama to take in his first day in office.  The Center for Reproductive Rights has written to Barack Obama calling for the repeal of the global gag rule.  Now is the time to make as much noise as possible about this to generate political support for an early decision to reverse this policy.

For more information about the global gag rule, listen to the interview with Dana Hovig in Episode 6 of Development Drums (about 30 minutes in to the podcast).

Published by Owen Barder

Owen is Senior Fellow and Director for Europe at the Center for Global Development and a Visiting Professor in Practice at the London School of Economics. Owen was a civil servant for a quarter of a century, working in Number 10, the Treasury and the Department for International Development. Owen hosts the Development Drums podcast, and is the author Running for Fitness, the book and website. Owen is on Twitter and

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