To the laudation of feminists and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights activists, on 28th January 2021, President Biden rescinded the Mexico City Policy popularly known as the Global Gag Rule (GGR). This was after four years of former Republican President Donald Trump who had re-enacted the policy 2017. The Global Gag Rule prevented organizations receiving US funding from sharing information, referring and providing abortion-related services. Even with privately raised funds, provided organizations globally received US funding meant that they were gagged and could not share any information on abortion-related matters.
This Global Gag Rule limited organisations on what they could do with their own generated funding and forced many health care providers and African Non-Governmental Organisations to choose between receiving US funding or abandoning a wide range of reproductive services and information.
Since its introduction, the Global Gag Rule has been rescinded and reenacted by the different United States Presidents depending on which political side they are on, whether republican or democrats. It was first introduced in 1984 by Ronald Reagan and continued in 1989 during President George H.W Bush, in 1993 President Clinton rescinded it, President George W. Bush reenacted it and President Obama rescinded it. These musical political acts need to stop because this means that in the next few years it might be reenactment again.
Kenya, in particular, was hit hard by this policy where many organisations had to make the difficult choice of putting women’s lives at risk in order to continue receiving US funding. A study done by Trust for Indigenous Culture and Health and International Women’s Health Coalition in 2018 indicated that GGR prevented women from accessing information about/referrals for safe abortion, leading to increased reliance on unsafe services putting women’s lives at risk of death.
In some communities, women’s and girls’ access to contraceptives, maternal health care and other sexual and reproductive health services reduced and facilities closed down. GGR was a catalyst for maternal mortality through unsafe abortions in Kenya and globally. African Population and Health Research Centre (APHRC) noted in their research that GGR was not just harmful but resulted in the disintegration of health services.
While this move by the new administration is laudable and restores much-needed services, we cannot have this happen again a few years from now. Our efforts now need to be focused on ensuring that this draconian policy is permanently revoked, by the passing of Global Health Empowerment and Rights (HER) Act.
Re-introduced by Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA), the Global Health, Empowerment, and Rights (HER) Act (S. 142, H.R. 556) would permanently end GGR. The bill which seeks to permanently end the GGR, no matter who the president is the way to go now. The Global HER Act would ensure that U.S. foreign assistance promotes health care services and information around the world that is free of stigma and discrimination and is consistent with human rights.
Health care services especially access to safe and legal abortion in accordance with the Constitution of Kenya are needed and organisations providing these services should be allowed and resourced to do their work without fear or lack of resources. Every day 8 women in Kenya die due to abortion-related complications as a result of unplanned pregnancies. One in every five teenage girls between the ages of 15-19 has begun childbearing while many teenage girls get pregnant every day resulting in unsafe abortions.
The pandemic has made the situation worse with many countries on the continent registered teenage pregnancies at a high rate and many girls dropping out of school. There is a need to protect these girls by ensuring that they do get the information needed and if the Global HER Act is passed, access to affordable, quality comprehensive and reproductive healthcare for people around the globe and in Kenya will be realized and that is what women and girls want.
Esther Kimani is an Psychologist, Intersectional Feminist, SRHR Advocate and founder of Zamara Foundation