The Global Gag Rule penalizes non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in 561 countries that receive family planning assistance funds from the U.S. These NGOs are prohibited from providing abortion-related services, including counseling and referrals, and/or lobbying on abortion issues. Depending on the abortion laws in their countries, NGOs are feeling the Global Gag Rule’s effects in different ways. NGOs are now subject to violations of their rights to free speech, association, and their ability to participate in the strengthening of their civil societies and democratic institutions. Under this policy, only abortion rights advocates are gagged, anti-abortion advocates can speak freely to keep abortion illegal or make it more difficult to obtain. Moreover, this U.S. policy prevents providers from complying with basic medical ethics: in countries where abortion is legal, they cannot provide the full range of legal reproductive health care nor can they refer or counsel parties as required by medical ethics. As a direct result, the Global Gag Rule imperils women’s health and lives both in countries where abortion is legal, as well as where it is illegal. Countries Where Abortion is Legal Albania Benin Countries Where Abortion is Illegal2 Afghanistan* 1 USAID Missions with PRH Programs Supported by Population/Reproductive Health Funding (2003) (On file with the Center for Reproductive Rights). 2 In the countries denoted with an “*”, the law explicitly permits abortion in cases of a threat to the pregnant woman’s life. Other countries on this list may not penalize abortions performed in cases of “necessity,” such as when a woman’s life is in danger. ** Population assistance provided only to the republic of Serbia and the province of Kosovo.
In 18 of the 56 countries that receive U.S. family planning funds, abortion is legal without restriction as to reason or on broad grounds, such as when a pregnancy results in socio-economic hardship and in cases of rape and fetal impairment. Under the Global Gag Rule, U.S.-funded NGOs that either provide abortions or refer or counsel on abortion in these countries are no longer able to do so. Medical care providers must surrender their ability to provide and discuss all reproductive health options with their patients or lose funding for desperately needed reproductive health programs. Since women faced with an unwanted pregnancy often decide to terminate it regardless of the availability of safe services, many will resort to unskilled providers or self-induce, resulting in severe threats to women’s lives and health.
Serbia and Montenegro**
Countries Where Abortion is Legal Under Some Circumstances but Generally Unavailable
In 17 of the 56 countries that receive U.S. family planning funds, abortion is legal under limited circumstances—to protect a woman’s life and physical health and, in some cases, to protect her mental health and on socioeconomic grounds—but it is generally not available. The unavailability of safe and legal abortion services in these countries may be attributable to diverse factors, including a shortage of trained providers, lack of medical facilities, and burdensome regulation of the procedure. Under the Global Gag Rule, NGOs receiving U.S. family planning funding that might otherwise have come forward to offer desperately needed abortion services are prevented from doing so. As a result, those women who are legally entitled to safe abortion services face even greater barriers to accessing them.
In 21 of the 56 countries that receive U.S. family planning funds, abortion is generally prohibited. U.S.-funded NGOs that want to speak publicly about abortion issues are severely affected. The Global Gag Rule stifles their free speech rights, cripples lobbying efforts to liberalize abortion laws, and censors open and honest political participation and debate. Additionally, women continue to die, as rates of maternal death from unsafe abortions are dangerously high in countries that do not provide legal access to abortion. In practical terms, very few U.S.-funded providers are likely to perform life-saving abortions even in the countries denoted below that explicitly permit them. The few that do provide them may feel compelled to cease doing so to avoid entanglement with abortion, even though the Global Gag Rule does not deny funding to organizations that provide life-saving abortions (or those performed in cases of rape or incest).
Democratic Republic of Congo
Countries Where Abortion is Illegal2
1 USAID Missions with PRH Programs Supported by Population/Reproductive Health Funding (2003) (On file with the Center for Reproductive Rights).
2 In the countries denoted with an “*”, the law explicitly permits abortion in cases of a threat to the pregnant woman’s life. Other countries on this list may not penalize abortions performed in cases of “necessity,” such as when a woman’s life is in danger.
** Population assistance provided only to the republic of Serbia and the province of Kosovo.