These US abortion restrictions threaten reproductive health everywhere

To reverse the recent decision of the US Supreme Court Roe v. Wade has sparked a debate in the United States on how to protect reproductive freedom. President Biden proposed ending the Senate filibuster rule so Congress can pass legislation legalizing abortion rights, and he signed an executive order to “protect access to reproductive health care.” In some states, lawmakers have passed new laws that expand abortion rights. What is missing from this debate, however, is a similar discourse and concrete actions by Democrats to protect reproductive rights, not only in the United States, but also in less developed countries, directly affected by Republican attacks on US funding for reproductive health over worldwide .

Developing countries are struggling to improve reproductive health services, even where abortion is legal. For example, safe abortion services have been legal in Nepal since 2004. The Nepalese constitution enshrines “safe maternity and reproductive health” as basic human rights. Despite these constitutional and legal protections, Nepal is witnessing at least three maternal deaths every day due to limited capacity to provide health care, especially in remote areas, and lack of easy access to safe abortion when childbirth poses risks to maternal health.

This is a problem for many developing countries that are victims of US policies on abortion abroad, including the 1973 Helms Amendment, which prohibits US taxpayers’ money from being used for abortions, even if the abortion is legal in that jurisdiction. While the Helms Amendment includes exceptions for rape, incest or maternal health risks, many recipients do not provide abortion-related services for fear of losing US funds.

The United States’ funding restrictions on reproductive health care do not end with the Helms amendment. In 1984, Republican President Ronald Reagan announced that foreign health care providers would not be able to obtain US funding if they provided abortion services, even with non-US funds. Known as the “Mexico City Policy” or the “global gag rule,” this policy even prohibits NGOs receiving US aid from referring to abortion when advising pregnant people or campaigning for abortion rights everywhere. Rooted in American abortion politics, this policy is revoked whenever a Democrat becomes president and reinstated whenever Republicans regain control.

The global gag rule disproportionately targets poor, marginalized and often indigenous women who live in low-income countries and lack access to private health care. Studies show that the global gag rule does not reduce abortion, but increases the number of abortions. When the United States, the world’s largest health donor in the world, withdraws funding from health clinics that provide, refer or advocate for abortion services, those clinics often cease to function, rendering contraceptives unavailable, leading to more unplanned pregnancies and thus more abortions—often unsafe procedures.

These US abortion restrictions threaten reproductive health everywhere

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