The third and final presidential debate will focus on foreign policy, and we can be all but certain the issue of international family planning and the global gag rule will not come up. That’s despite the fact that the outcome of this election will decide the fate of millions of women abroad.
Republican nominee Mitt Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan promised that, on their first day in the White House, they would reinstate the “global gag rule,” a spiteful restriction used to deny federal money for family-planning work abroad to any organization that provides information, advice, referrals or services for legal abortion or supported the legalization of abortion, even if that organization used its own money to do so. The mere mention of abortion by any group that provides health care to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable women would not only cost them federal money used to support those broad health care services, but technical support in the way of supplies of contraceptives.
The gag rule was imposed by the last three Republican presidents, beginning with Ronald Reagan in 1984. Both President Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama rescinded the rule once inaugurated.
Romney has also vowed to reinstate another anti-woman policy adored by conservatives. Romney promised to block the United States from contributing to the United Nations Population Fund. The fund supports programs in approximately 150 countries to improve poor women’s reproductive health, reduce infant mortality, end sexual trafficking of women and girls and prevent the spread of HIV.
U.S. contribution to the fund has already decreased approximately $20 million to $35 million annually. Overall support of international family planning and reproductive health programs stands at $610 million, a mere drop in the bucket compared to the need of the world’s most vulnerable. And as we’ve seen time and time again, investing in women’s health and opportunity lifts up communities, especially in the developing world. Educating girls, providing women access to land ownership and giving these girls and women the ability to control their destinies is the way to peace and prosperity. Sadly, that’s a vision that simply can’t compete with the war-hungry defense industry.
Photo from mckaysavage via flickr.