United States funds represent a significant proportion of the budgets of many international nongovernmental organizations that provide essential health care to women in the developing nations. In many rural areas, these organizations are the only source of gynecological health care available. In 1984, the Reagan Administration placed restrictions on these funds, prohibiting overseas international family planning groups and programs from receiving US funds if, with their own funds, they performed or counseled abortion—except in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment.
The global gag rule effectively censors certain international organizations, regardless of the legality of abortion in the countries they work in, and affects only pro-choice groups. These groups are prevented not only from providing abortion services and counseling but from lobbying their own governments to liberalize abortion laws, regardless of their nation’s laws on free speech. Such restrictions would be unconstitutional in the United States, and apply to US-based organizations overseas. Anti-choice organizations and programs are unaffected, and can work to make abortion laws more restrictive while still receiving United States funding.
While the Republican Party and President George W. Bush implied that the global gag rule, also known as the Mexico City Policy, prevented US funds from being used for overseas abortions, a pre-existing policy already prohibits direct US funding for international abortion services. The Helms Amendment, named for anti-choice Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC), passed in 1973, and is the policy that prohibits the use of US funds directly for abortion services. The Mexico City Policy, by contrast, prohibits a much wider range of services, including lobbying and abortion counseling, that are funded not directly by US dollars but with private monies.
From the moment Bush announced the reinstatement of the global gag rule, feminist and progressive organizations expressed their outrage. American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Director Laura W. Murphy stated, "It is unfortunate that the House has allowed President Bush to export an undemocratic policy he would be prohibited from imposing within the borders of the United States." Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-NY) echoed those sentiments: "It’s not about abortion. It’s about us imposing on others laws we wouldn’t impose on ourselves."