Power and politics in international funding for reproductive health: the US Global Gag Rule

Reprod Health Matters. 2004 Nov;12(24):128-37. doi: 10.1016/s0968-8080(04)24140-4.


Since 2001, the US government has used its power as a leading donor to family planning programmes to pursue policies in conflict with global agreements on reproductive rights. Prominent among these policies is the Mexico City Policy (or Global Gag Rule), which restricts non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in developing countries that receive USAID family planning funding from engaging in most abortion-related activities, even with their own funds. This paper reviews the history and political origins of the Gag Rule under several Republican party presidents. The Gag Rule has not achieved an overall reduction in abortions; rather, where it has disrupted family planning services, the policy is more likely to have increased the number of abortions. This paper concludes that the Gag Rule is a radical intrusion on the rights and autonomy of recipients of US funding. Regardless of whether or not it is rescinded in the future, the underlying issues in the politics of US reproductive health assistance are likely to persist. NGOs that wish to free themselves from the constraints it imposes must find the means to end their dependence on USAID funding, including turning to other donors. NGOs should also take the lead in opposing policies such as the Gag Rule that violate global agreements.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Ambulatory Care Facilities / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Female
  • Financing, Government*
  • Humans
  • International Cooperation*
  • Politics*
  • Power, Psychological*
  • Pregnancy
  • Reproductive Medicine*
  • United States