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Repeal of the Global Gag Rule a Crucial Move to Promote Women's Health

On the thirty-sixth anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, a major step in protecting a woman's legal right to an abortion, MADRE calls on President to end the controversial and harmful Mexico City Policy, also known as the Global Gag Rule. Reports indicate that the president may be considering such a change, and MADRE supports rapid action on this matter.

Under this policy, no US funds may be directed to any foreign healthcare organization that provides abortion services or advocates for the legalization of abortion. These regulations have denied US aid to organizations providing essential health services, including reproductive healthcare, child vaccinations, and HIV/AIDS treatment, to some of the world's poorest people. 

The Global Gag Rule, first imposed by President Reagan, was undone by President Clinton before being reinstituted by President Bush. MADRE recalls that whenever the Gag Rule has been in force, it has endangered the lives of women and has undermined reproductive health services worldwide.

Vivian Stromberg, MADRE Executive Director, said today, "Numerous studies have shown the danger that the Global Gag Rule presents to women's health internationally, and we have witnessed its effects in the communities of our sister organizations. The removal of this substantial barrier to women's access to essential health services cannot be delayed." 

Rebecca Lolosoli, Director of the Umoja Uaso Women's Group, a MADRE sister organization in Kenya, said today, "The local clinics are very important for all the women in our community, and when a clinic closes, it hurts us. For our health, the clinics must have money and medicines."

MADRE joins other women's health advocates in pointing out that other considerable obstacles to achieving the highest standards of health continue to exist, notably in the Helms Amendment of 1973. This amendment states that no US foreign assistance may be used to pay for abortion, cutting off a potential source of funding for safe abortion services.

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Rhonda Copelon is an expert in international women's human rights issues and has played a leading role in articulating international human rights standards related to women's reproductive health, including access to abortion. She is a professor of law and the co-director of the International Women's Human Rights Law Clinic at the City University of New York Law School. Under her direction and guidance, the Clinic has had a profound impact on the recognition of women's human rights in the international, regional, and US contexts, particularly in establishing rape and other gender crimes as war crimes and crimes against humanity. Prior to joining CUNY, she worked for 12 years at the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York City, where she remains a Vice-President and volunteer attorney. She co-authored the second edition of a leading legal text, Sex Discrimination and the Law: History, Practice and Theory, and has published influential articles in the field of reproductive and sexual rights and international women's human rights.

Yifat Susskind, MADRE's Communications Director, worked for several years as part of a joint Israeli-Palestinian human rights organization in Jerusalem before joining MADRE. She has written extensively on US foreign policy and women's human rights. Her critical analysis has appeared in online and print publications such as, Foreign Policy in Focus, and The W Effect: Bush's War on Women, published by the Feminist Press in 2004. Ms. Susskind has been featured as a commentator on CNN, National Public Radio, and BBC Radio.

January 22, 2009