Repealing Global Gag Rule, win for Kenyan women

By Alvin Mwangi
Thursday, February 4th, 2021
President Joe Biden. Photo/AFP
In summary

It’s a win for Kenya after The Biden-Kamala Administration Repealed the Global Gag Rule (GGR) to Advance Reproductive Health.

According to a study by the African Population and Research Centre in 2012, an estimated 464,690 induced abortions occurred in Kenya, corresponding to a rate of 48 abortions per 1000 women of reproductive age (15-49 years), and ratio of 30 abortions per 100 births in 2012.

Policy decisions made in the US can have far-reaching consequences globally, regionally and in countries such as Kenya.

Since 2010 and the enactment of the Constitution of Kenya, maternal health projects have been on the rise, with increasing hope of finally acknowledging women and upholding their rights.

What is the GGR? First announced in Mexico City in 1984 by President Reagan’s administration, the policy requires all nongovernmental organisations operating abroad to refrain from performing, advising on or endorsing pregnancy by choice initiatives if they wish to receive federal funding.

The GRR, also called the Mexico City Policy, stipulates that taxpayer dollars should not be used to pay for pregnancy by choice programs or related services (such as counseling, education or training). 

The impact of the policy is an increase in maternal deaths and morbidities aggravated by unsafe abortions.

This move has denied thousands of the Kenyan women access to the comprehensive reproductive health services through Sh60 billion annual grant from the US government.

Kenya has achieved moderate improvements in sexual and reproductive health outcomes in recent decades, but significant gaps and inequities remain.

Unsafe abortion is among the leading causes of maternal death in the country, despite being largely preventable through increased use of modern contraceptives and the provision of safe abortion.

While the Constitution permits abortion to protect the health or life of a pregnant woman, the circumstances under which abortion is criminalised in the Kenyan penal code are less clearly specified.

In January 2017, the Trump administration reinstated and expanded the GGR, renaming it “Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance.” 

This policy required non-US-based non-governmental organisations that receive US global health assistance to certify they will not provide, refer for, counsel on, or advocate for abortion as a method of family planning.

The GGR includes exceptions for cases of rape, incest, and to save the life of the woman; however, these are rarely applied in practice.

In Kenya, previous versions of the GGR affected civil society and sexual and reproductive health and rights advocacy and reduced access to family planning services.

By cutting off funding to organisations that offer a full spectrum of these services, the policy ended crucial programmes and shuttered facilities, leaving poor and vulnerable communities with no recourse. 

Its reinstatement  has had devastating effects on access to sexual and reproductive health rights by women and girls in Kenya. 

In rural and far-to-reach areas or informal settlements, clinics run by not for profit organisations were the only source of information on sexual reproductive and health care provision.

Many are no longer operating owing to the loss of funds; other have had to cut back on operations and lay off much needed staff to reduce spending.

It’s a win for Wanjiku as overturning the harmful GGR will restore funding for global health including all sexual health and reproductive rights services. — The writer is a sexual reproductive health advocate