Global Gag Rule's Return Would Threaten Women Worldwide

In this Sept. 17, 2012, photo, Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks to reporter
In this Sept. 17, 2012, photo, Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks to reporters in Costa Mesa, Calif. Romney’s remarks disparaging 47 percent of Americans are the latest in a string of poorly chosen words that play into Democrats’ portrayal of him as out of touch. But he’s not the only one plagued by a campaign gaffe deemed elitist by critics. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Thanks to Mitt Romney's appearance on Meet the Press, we now have confirmation of his views on a crucial and often overlooked issue:

He'd bring back the gag.

Ever since President Ronald Reagan introduced it in 1984, the Mexico City Policy, known by family planning advocates as the Global Gag Rule, has negatively affected women every time it's reinstated. President Clinton overturned the Gag Rule, which says the United States can provide no assistance to foreign non-governmental organizations that even discuss abortion or provide referrals for their clients. President George W. Bush reinstated it. President Barack Obama overturned it again in one of his first presidential actions. Red light, green light. Red light, green light.

What difference does this make in the lives of women overseas? For some of them, it's a matter of life and death.

When the Global Gag Rule is in effect, organizations that receive foreign aid from the United States are forced to choose: They can accept funding but censor the programs they've developed to serve their populations. Or they can refuse to comply and lose funding, at the risk of going bankrupt and being forced to shutter their doors.

In either case, it's the world's most vulnerable women who suffer.

Under President George W. Bush, the International Planned Parenthood Federation, or IPPF, chose the second option. It refused to comply with the Global Gag Rule in order to protect its comprehensive sexual and reproductive health programs. IPPF lost more than $100 million in funding over an eight-year period. In Kenya alone, three clinics were forced to close, leaving 56,000 clients out in the cold.

Meanwhile, 20 developing nations saw shipments of U.S.-donated contraceptives end -- contraceptives that don't just protect against unwanted pregnancy. Family planning protects natural resources, reduces maternal and child mortality and allows women to pursue education and careers -- boosting the prospects not just for families, but for entire nations.

And here's the real kicker: Under the Global Gag Rule, organizations are not even allowed to discuss the dangers of unsafe abortion with their clients. This information saves the lives of desperate women in developing nations.

For decades, reinstating the Global Gag Rule has been seen as the default "pro-life" position. I would argue that it's anything but. When United States' policy leads to more unintended pregnancies, more unplanned births, higher maternal mortality, worse outcomes for infants and children and more deaths due to unsafe abortion and inadequate resources, the United States needs to seriously rethink that policy.

It's time to gag the Global Gag Rule -- permanently. But I'm certainly not holding my breath.