The Global HER Act Would Repeal the Harmful Global Gag Rule

Heather D. Boonstra, Guttmacher Institute
Reproductive rights are under attack. Will you help us fight back with facts?

First published online:

Today reproductive health and rights champions in the U.S. Congress, led by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), introduced the Global Health, Empowerment and Rights (HER) Act. This important bill would reverse and prohibit the global gag rule, thereby protecting the health and rights of women and girls around the world and helping to restore the United States as a global leader in this field.

The many harms of the global gag rule

In January 2017, President Trump reinstated and expanded the global gag rule, kicking off his administration’s relentless campaign to undermine reproductive health and rights, both globally and in the United States. The global gag rule is a coercive and unjust policy that disrupts the provision of reproductive health services abroad by blocking U.S. global health assistance to all foreign nongovernmental organizations that use their own funding to engage in abortion-related services or advocacy.

Previous versions of the policy applied to U.S. assistance for family planning programs ($607.5 million in fiscal year 2018). The Trump administration vastly expanded the global gag rule to include all U.S. global health assistance ($10.8 billion), greatly increasing the number of agencies forced to choose between critical funding and the well-being and rights of their patients.

All iterations of the global gag rule are dangerous. The policy threatens the provision of health services in developing countries, increases the risk of unintended pregnancies and unsafe abortions, and violates medical ethics. The Trump administration’s policy puts life-saving health services—particularly sexual and reproductive health services—out of reach for people and communities who already have limited access to affordable, high quality health care.

The Global HER Act

The Global HER Act would reverse and permanently prohibit the global gag rule. Specifically, the law would allow entities receiving U.S. global assistance to provide safe abortion care using their own funds, in keeping with current U.S. laws and those of their respective countries. It would also support free speech and democratic engagement by lifting the prohibition on funding to entities that use their own funds to advocate on behalf of abortion rights.

Importantly, the Global HER Act would prevent future antiabortion administrations from easily re-imposing the global gag rule through executive order. This, in turn, would greatly reduce the likelihood that family planning aid and other global health assistance will continue to be treated as a political football by antiabortion ideologues—never mind the severe real-world consequences.