Rape, abortions, religious imperatives amidst the US GAG Rule

Participants at the Ipas workshop at Keffi, Nasarawa state. Standing at the extreme right is the Country Director, Ipas, Nigeria, Dr. Lucky Palmer.

At a workshop on Women and Reproductive Health, for senior journalists and editors at Keffi, Nasarawa state last month, emotions, morality and health implications of abortions, particularly unsafe abortions, took the center stage. Editor of The AUTHORITY, MALACHY UZENDU, participated and brings the high and low points of the three-day workshop.

The workshop provided opportunity for the women sexuality experts and journalists to meet minds, dissect the issues under heated intellectual engagement, dissected the issues and proffered what can best be regarded as informed recommendations. Though the issue of carrying out abortions or not cut the body to two distinct parts, with one part driven purely by religious and moral parameters and the other by professional health analysis, it no doubt provided opportunity for a cross-fertilisation of ideas, the outcome of which I chose to describe as a win-win resolution.
meat of the workshop was cut open by Dr. Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, Ipas facilitator, after what had almost divided the house. She professionally cut open crux of the matter hinging the discordant tunes on the US Global Gag Rule (GGR), and emphasising that the rule has the potency to excercebate rate of unsafe abortions in developing countries, especially in Nigeria.
She said that implementing the GGR has led to some 4.8million unintended pregnancies and 1.7million unsafe abortions. Being a senior director in Women Advocates Research & Documentation Center (WARDC) Lagos, she urged the media to carry out high-level advocacy on the dangers posed to women’s reproductive health rights in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East by the GGR.

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”.

According to her, “from 2001 to 2009, 20 developing countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East lost contraceptives usually donated by NGOs and government of the United States. Also, several organizations and clinics were forced to reduce services, lay off their 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”.

She added that “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.”

The wimen health expert listed the Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean as regions mostly affected by the US rule. “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 that some of our member associations’ funding could be cut by as high as 30 to 60 % as a result of GGR. Clinics and community outreach centres are expected to be forced to close shops resulting in loss of access to contraception, more unintended pregnancies and more unsafe abortions.”

On the international impact, she said: “All NGO’s, 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 conduct public information campaigns about abortion as a method of family planning.”

The schemes noticed but which remains like a mirage, according to her was her clarification 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.”

GGR, also known as the Mexico City Policy, was enacted in 1984. Every administration after President Ronald Reagan, always took fresh decisions on the policy, making NGO funding vulnerable to the US politics.

The rule compells organisations to choose whether to provide comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care and education without US funding, or comply with the policy in order to continue accepting funds from the US.

In 2017, President Donald Trump’s Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance policy expanded the GAG rule, applying it to recipients of any US global health funding, totaling an unprecedented $8.8 billion. This means that everything, from HIV and AIDS programming and health systems strengthening to programmes that support water, sanitation, and hygiene, are negatively impacted.

In 2019, the Trump administration announced a further expansion of the implementation of the rule, restricting “gagged organisations from funding groups that provide abortion services and information, even though those organisations do not get any US aid. This means that organisations, donor governments and funders will be bound by a US government policy, even if they do not accept any U.S. government funding.

In condemning series of violence, especially recently against women, Dr. Lucky Palmer urged the society and political leaders to bring in reforms especially on women health and sexuality issues.

“That’s why IPAS not only engages in training, but engages in advocacy to the community folks so they can be better informed”.

He said the training was geard toward: “sensitising journalists on GAG Rule and it’s implications for women in Nigeria; build capacity for journalists; transform the attitude of journalists towards reporting women sexual reproductive health right issues and develop action plan for the development of media features”.

Also, Mrs. Doris Ikpeze took the participants through real-life scenarios involving rape by foster father to some minor and woman and further explanation on issue of consensual sex differentiated with rape.

He expose illicited divergent views from the journalists on such ssues but threw up emotions and deep feelings. Prejudices and personal idiosyncrasies played up, but in the end, there was convergence of opinion on issues of consent, abortion, violence against women and legislation, which calls for vigilance and community action.

Media expert and facilitator, Mr. Emmanuel Ugorji, commemded IPAS for brought together the editors and reporters of such calibre for the training as it would open their intellect to issues they have not really deeply thought about or brought to the front burner in their write-ups.

The real issue is how to juxtapose religious injunctions against wilful abortion in any form, especially by the Catholic and Orthodox churches and Islam, with the modernity put forward as “Safe Abortions”. Although there was no consensus on that, there was no doubt that issues of population control, health of the foetus and ladies or baby carrying it as well as social issues of dual personality, public shame, health challenges, economic factors, societal taboo/sanction, among others remain constant factors to determine what to do, especially with rape, invest, and accidental pregnancies. In all these, the workshop agreed that health issues should be preeminent.

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