US-GAG rule causing more unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions – Expert

The United States of America’s Global Gag Rule has led to an increase in unwanted pregnancies rather than reducing abortions.

An advocate for the rights of women, Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, stated this Sunday  at a three-day workshop organised by IPAS for journalists in Keffi, Nasarawa state capital.

The workshop centered on women’s sexual reproductive health and rights/Global Gag Rule.

 The GAG rule is a US policy that forbids NGOs getting funding from the country’s global health assistance basket from providing abortion services, counselling or referrals regarding abortion, advocate for abortion law reform in their country and conduct public campaign on abortion access.

Taking a strong exception to the rule however, an advocate for the rights of women,   Dr  Akiyode-Afolabi, said  halting the GGR from happening would have prevented  some 4.8million unintended pregnancies as well as 1.7million unsafe abortions.

  Akiyode-Afolabi who is of the  Women Advocates Research &Documentation Center (WARDC) Lagos, urged the media to embark on high-level advocacy on the danger posed to women’s reproductive health rights in  Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.

She said: “Though the Global Gag Rule was meant to target abortion providers, it had terrible consequences for the health and lives of poor women and their families in ways that had nothing to do with abortion.

“From 2001 to 2009, 20 developing countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East lost U.S.-donated contraceptives, and many organizations and clinics were forced to reduce services, lay off staff, or shut down entirely.

“The Global Gag Rule affected family planning, HIV services, maternal and child health, and even malaria services. And in no place did the policy reduce abortions. In fact, the irony is that this policy led to more unwanted pregnancies.

“The rule will put thousands of international healthcare workers in the difficult position of deciding whether to continue to offer family planning care that includes abortion at the expense of a critical funding stream. The policy has led to unsafe abortions and a major cause of maternal mortality and kills tens of thousands of women every year.”

Afolabi-Akiyode, who listed Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean as regions to be mostly affected by the US rule, also said: “In terms of the impact of the GGR on for examples IPPF’s services and clients we serve, we expect cuts to SRHR funding in at least 30 countries and will stand to lose up to $100 million over the next 3 years.

“In practical terms, this level of funding could have (over 5 years); prevented 4.8 million unintended pregnancies; prevented 1.7 million unsafe abortions.

“We expect some of our Member Associations’ funding could be cut by as high as 30-60 per cent as a result of GGR. We expect to see clinics, community outreach centres forced to close resulting in loss of access to contraception, more unintended pregnancies and more unsafe abortions.”

On the international impact, she said: “All NGO’s, Non Government Agencies, internationally, regionally and locally in other counties that receive United States aid cannot “directly or indirectly” offer abortion as a course of family planning.

“This includes but is not restricted to, “providing advice and information about or offering referral for abortion, even if it is legal in said country”, “promote changes in a country’s laws or policies related to abortion as a method of family planning”, or “conducting public information campaigns about abortion as a method of family planning.”

She however clarified that “the policy doesn’t prohibit international NGOs from providing advice, a referral, or performing an abortion if the pregnancy causes a severe risk to the life of the mother or was a result of incest or rape. It is also possible for these international NGOs to answer questions about an abortion if the woman makes it clear she has decided to have a safe, legal abortion.

“This only applies if the country the woman is living in has abortion rights laws and the information is given “passively” instead of providing the information as “medically appropriate.”

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