AFRICA: "Global gag rule" has far-reaching consequences
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
JOHANNESBURG, 30 October (PLUSNEWS) - The United States policy restricting foreign NGOs receiving US funding from promoting abortions has had dire consequences for reproductive health NGOs in Zambia, a report has found.
"Ironically, far from preventing abortions, the greatest impact of the Global Gag Rule in Zambia is to contribute to more unwanted pregnancies, as well as a higher incidence of HIV/AIDS," a report produced by the Global Gag Rule Impact Project said.
The Mexico City policy, referred to by family planning advocates as the "global gag rule", disqualifies foreign NGOs from receiving US family planning funds if they provide legal abortion services in cases other than a threat to the life of the woman, rape, or incest; give counselling and referral for abortion; or lobby to make abortion legal or more available in their own country.
The policy, in effect during the mid-1980s and early 1990s, was reinstated by US President George W. Bush in January 2001. Activists denounced the reversal.
A United States Agency for International Development (USAID) briefing noted: "The Mexico City Policy does not have a major impact on the provision of family planning services. Very few countries where USAID works permit abortions under circumstances broader than those allowed under the Mexico City Policy, and few organisations have a history of lobbying for change in the legal status of abortion."
US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in 2001: "The Mexico City policy here, as it applies to organisations, is to not provide funding to organisations that promote or advocate abortion. That is the policy that this administration has adopted. There are some 450 non-US based grantees, meaning organisations, that receive US aid funds. The vast majority of these organisations will probably consent to the Mexico City restrictions, and thus would choose not to lose their funding."
However, the Global Gag Rule Impact Project has documented the effects of the policy on Zambia's leading family planning organisation, the Planned Parenthood Association of Zambia (PPAZ), which lost US funding when it refused to agree to the terms of the policy.
Young people have been the worst affected. "PPAZ has been at the forefront of youth reproductive health services and HIV/AIDS prevention. They deliberately targeted this group ... this has hurt them tremendously," Wendy Turnbull, the report's co-author and legislative policy analyst at Population Action International told PlusNews.
The organisation trained peer educators to counsel youth and generated "considerable youth demand" for a specially marketed condom called Success. Its system of distribution booths, as well as youth-directed marketing campaigns, gave away roughly 2.8 million condoms at its peak in 1998.
Since the gag rule came into effect, however, marketing efforts for the condom have "almost ceased" and booths have been shut down around the country. Without funding to sustain Success's media presence, the condom has experienced considerable decline in its market share, with sales falling by 19 percent between 2001 and 2002.
Although sales of a condom marketed to young adults aged 24 to 29 had increased, this did not compensate for PPAZ's loss of the youth market, as Success was the only youth-targeted condom. "PPAZ can no longer effectively inform or provide supplies to the many Zambian youth who need them to protect against STIs and prevent pregnancy," the report pointed out.
"The other victims have been the smaller NGOs, who relied on PPAZ for technical support and guidance as well as supplies," Turnbull added.
The particularly strong rural networks of PPAZ, a key supplier of free contraceptives, including condoms, to smaller NGOs and rural populations, had been disrupted and the organisation could now only afford to procure what it needed for its own clinics - smaller NGOs had to look elsewhere for supplies, Turnbull said.
Admitting that the effect of the legislation on HIV prevalence was still speculation, she warned that this was a "very likely consequence of the gag rule".
Turnbull said: "This is not the time to be crippling reproductive health services, when such a huge pandemic is facing the continent - if AIDS is also not a reproductive health issue, I don't know what is."
One of the unintended effects of the policy was the self-censorship among NGOs that had accepted the gag rule. "For example, Youth Media (a USAID-funded NGO) eliminated a chapter on emergency contraception from a brochure they produced on contraception options. Fear of losing US funds had also prevented Trendsetters, Zambia's only youth newspaper, from writing articles addressing readers' interest in abortion-related topics," the report said.
"This is a larger chilling effect and it is an unfortunate consequence," Turnbull said.
Report: THE IMPACT OF THE GLOBAL GAG RULE IN ZAMBIA
More information on the Global Gag Rule: www.usaid.gov
Population Action International Factsheet: www.populationaction.org