The Gag – a rule, or a reflex?

Opinion Piece

We know that for many, abortion is an extremely emotional topic. We endeavor to be respectful, acknowledging personal values may differ, but focusing on the importance of education, access to health services, safety and choice for every person.

Today I read a metaphor: ‘America is an enormous frosted cupcake in the middle of millions of starving people’. Although intensely disliking the way the United States has appropriated the name ‘America’ (the Americas comprise 36 nations, not just one) it was a statement that resonated. All the more now because of President Trump’s reintroduction of the ‘Global Gag Rule’.

For those unfamiliar with this term, the Global Gag Rule prevents US health providers, including overseas aid organisations, from mentioning abortion when discussing possible pregnancy outcomes, or else lose government funding.

The Global Gag Rule has been enforced and repealed quite regularly in the United States since 1984, depending on the party of the incumbent President. Under Obama it was removed. No one really expected that we would go back to the bad old days, and in such a short time too. Yet by July this serious restraint will be placed on workers seeking to support the most vulnerable of women, both in the US and overseas.

There has been an ongoing push from the ‘pro-life’ movement for laws like this, even here in Australia. But I wonder if those in the ‘pro-life’ movement truly understand what this Global Gag Rule will mean, in particular for some of the most disadvantaged women – women whose lives are presumably worth at least the same as an embryo.

While there are range of values and beliefs about abortion, for some individuals, the option to end a pregnancy is extremely important. Ultimately an individual might decide to continue a pregnancy, but to not have the option at all, can leave people in desperate circumstances.

Imagine what this could mean for those in crisis situations (which could occur in the US just as much as other nations). If you have just survived a natural disaster and you have been told you will be homeless for another 18 months, averting the birth of another child might seem sensible – in fact, it might be a matter of desperation.

The text of Trump’s Executive Order does give a slight ‘out’, in that it does allow for abortion as long as its use is only in the event of rape (and how difficult is that to prove?), incest or when the life of the woman is endangered. But genetic abnormality is not included in that list, nor is the fact that it might be a young girl who is carrying that foetus, or someone who is in a dire situation in regards to access to finances, housing or personal safety. But apparently this is of no consequence to the architects of the Global Gag Rule, who are not facing these situations, nor are they working to support the people who are.

Instead, to even mention the option of abortion could mean withdrawal of government funding, which in turn has the consequence of lessening services and the availability of contraception (including the morning after pill) – only exacerbating the incidences of unplanned pregnancy. Loss of funding could also have the unintended consequence of affecting transmission of HIV.

Usually, we would advocate for engaging with people who hold anti-abortion values, trying to find common ground – which, obviously, is that it would be far better if no-one found themselves in a situation where they had an unplanned pregnancy. This, evidence has shown, can be helped by providing sexual health education, access to affordable contraception, and supporting initiatives that promote gender equality, thus enabling women to decide when and how they will have sexual relationships. Still, there are always going to be incidences where unplanned pregnancies occur. Hopefully, it could follow that even if someone personally held a value about abortion, preventing others from accessing safe abortions puts extremely vulnerable people at risk.

Past experience has shown that making access to abortion difficult does not reduce its incidence.

Rather, desperate women will seek alternative means. For the women of the United States that might mean endangering their health. Women and girls in developing nations will be hit hardest. Those dependent on overseas aid from the US, will be the ones bearing the burden of raising still more children or perhaps losing their own lives as a consequence of unsafe abortion.

However, people like Donald Trump are showing that they do not want to engage in conversation, or find common ground, or listen to the concerns of others. Whatever its motivation and whichever powers are behind it, a Global Gag Order on abortion without safe-guarding or even mentioning the importance of education, contraception and gender equality is never going to have positive outcomes for women.

We may live in Australia, but we are a part of the world. Like ripples in a pond, what impacts one nation will ultimately impact other nations. The health and social injustices arising in developing nations as a consequence of Trump’s order will reverberate to the detriment of all.

Trump’s enormous frosted cupcake sits in a sea of growing starvation which will only be exacerbated by the enormous inequalities he is creating

By Sandra Kanck and Elisa Resce

The Australian Democrats’ member-balloted policy on Reproductive Choice and Sexual Health pushes for comprehensive sexual health education, access to contraception, accurate health information / options to support families, and justice in foreign aid and services.

We welcome new members who want to see these values represented in Parliament. Join as a member here.

2017-05-17T17:33:51+00:00Tags: , , , , |


  1. Keith Ainsworth March 2, 2017 at 12:12 pm - Reply

    I’m not a fan of abortion but I think that it is appropriate at times.

    I’m a single father of 3 kids (and now 6 grandkids), and when my youngest daughter told me she was pregnant (at the age of 14) I was initially surprised to say the least. I sat her down and gave her the alternatives, abortion, adoption or keep the baby, and I was never so proud as when she told me she was going to keep it.

    The rest of the family accepted her decision and helped as much as possible. I had to go away for work at times during the pregnancy (which was probably a good thing because she was terribly moody), but towards the end of the pregnant I quit work and stayed home to look after him, enabling her to finish school.

    He is now 19, attending university to study law.

    The reason that I wrote this is because Trump has reintroduced this gag law and I believe that sound judgements must have information. You can’t expect young people to make decent decisions if they are not given all the data. I provided my daughter with all the options that I know of and allowed her to make her decision without any judgement or coercion from the rest of the family. If I can do this, surely a government can

  2. Vern Hughes December 4, 2017 at 6:48 am - Reply

    Abortion is one of the more divisive issues in politics, and is a difficult issue for a centrist party. For so long as the debate is focussed on ‘access’ to abortion, this will always be the case. As Sandra and Elisa acknowlege, ‘making access to abortion difficult does not reduce its incidence’.

    Focussing on reducing the ‘incidence’ of abortion is a much more productive approach. Most people want to reduce the incidence of abortion, no matter what position they take on access. A policy goal of aiming to reduce the incidence of abortion by say, 50% over a certain time period, would not only have majority support, it would marginalise the hard-line extremists on both sides. For a centrist party, marginalising the extremes is a key strategic goal: the more influence the extremes have in public debate, the harder it is for centrists to get a look in.

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