The Global Gag Rule and Fights Over Funding UNFPA: The Issues That Won’t Go Away
In reality, attempts to stop abortion through restrictive laws—or by withholding family planning aid—can never eliminate abortion, because those methods do not eliminate women’s need for abortion. The abortion rates in Africa and Latin America—regions where the procedure is mostly illegal—are 29 and 32 per 1,000 women of reproductive age, respectively; in contrast, the rate in Western Europe—where abortion is lawful on broad grounds—is 12 per 1,000.8 Where abortion is permitted on broad legal grounds, it is generally much safer than where it is highly restricted. The vast majority of abortions are sought by women in the world’s poorest countries, and most of those abortions—about 20 million—are unsafe (i.e., performed by an untrained person or in an environment that does not meet minimum medical standards, or both).9 According to the World Health Organization, unsafe abortion remains a leading cause of maternal death.10
Undermining access to family planning services ultimately hurts women by denying them the tools they need to prevent unwanted pregnancies—and, therefore, to avert abortions. Placing legal barriers between women’s reproductive health needs and desires and their access to safe abortion services only leads to unsafe abortion. History has shown that the gag rule has done and can do nothing to alter this reality, except to exacerbate it.