Secular Coalition urges Senators to Permanently Repeal Global Gag Rule

August 5th- The Secular Coalition for America, along with thirty-five other international and domestic advocacy groups, has sent letters to the Senate asking Senators to support an amendment included in the FY 2010 State Department, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriations bill to permanently protect international family planning providers from the egregious Global Gag Rule.

The Global Gag Rule prevents all non-governmental organizations which receive federal funding for overseas projects from providing full and accurate medical information to program participants. The Secular Coalition for America opposes the Global Gag Rule because medical science, not religious ideology, should direct public policy.

Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) has proposed an amendment to the foreign aid appropriations bill that would permanently reverse the Global Gag Rule by stipulating that foreign NGOs should not be disqualified from receiving US family planning assistance as a consequence of providing services that are permissible in their own countries and legal here.

If Lautenberg's amendment were to be adopted it would mean that international health care providers would no longer be forced to choose between receiving family planning funding from the U.S. Government and restricting the health care services they provide to women.

When introducing the amendment, Sen. Lautenberg argued that the gag rule forces NGOs abroad to "lose out on badly needed funds, or take the money and sacrifice their responsibility to their patients."  And, he added, it "creates no choice for the women who are forced to go without the care they need to be healthy."

The letter is below:

June 12, 2009

Dear Senator:

We are writing to urge your support for language included in the FY 2010 State Department, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriations bill to permanently protect international family planning providers from the egregious Global Gag Rule.

This provision, offered by Sen. Lautenberg and adopted by the Committee, will ensure that these crucial health care providers are not deemed ineligible for U.S. assistance simply because they offer a health service, either directly or through referral, that is legal both within their own countries and in the United States. It also states that these agencies may not face restrictions on their free speech and advocacy rights that are not applied to U.S. based organizations.

As you may know, the Global Gag Rule went beyond long standing law barring the use of U.S. money for abortion services, and limited what providers could do with funds from other sources – including from other governments. 

We were deeply gratified when President Obama lifted the policy within a week of assuming office and when you joined with the majority of the Senate in opposing an amendment offered by Sen. Martinez to reinstate it. We are confident that this action will benefit thousands of women. The fact that a future president could just as easily reimpose the Global Gag Rule, though, is cause for serious concern. Indeed, reports from the field suggest there is now reluctance on the part of some U.S.-funded organizations to work with other family planning service providers who were unable to be funded during the Bush administration as a result of the gag rule. This reluctance is due to uncertainty as to whether those organizations will be able to continue to participate in a project over its full five-year period or will be forced to drop off the team if the gag rule were to be reinstated under a new administration. The concern about partnering with these affected groups will almost certainly intensify as the next election cycle approaches.

For far too long, the health and rights of women in the developing world have been treated by American policymakers as little more than a tool in a domestic political struggle. We strongly urge you to oppose any effort to strip the Lautenberg amendment from the bill.

Sincerely,

Secular Coalition for America

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