amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research

President Obama Reverses “Global Gag Rule”

A Victory for Women’s Health and HIV Prevention

An Update from amfAR's Public Policy Office 

February 11, 2009—President Barack Obama issued an executive order on January 23 rescinding a policy known as the Global Gag Rule, which cut off U.S. funding to all international family planning organizations that provided or discussed abortion-related services. amfAR has long advocated the repeal of the policy and played a significant role in developing recommendations on this issue for President Obama’s transition team.


Obama in front of Capitol 

The Global Gag Rule, formally known as the Mexico City Policy, restricted funds and family planning assistance—including contraceptives that could prevent both unwanted pregnancies and HIV/AIDS—to foreign organizations and clinics that utilized funding from any source to perform abortions, provided counseling and referral for abortions, or advocated making the procedure legal or more widely available.

The rule had long stymied efforts by international aid groups to provide critical services to women in some of the most impoverished and vulnerable nations of the world. Because HIV/AIDS has a disproportionate impact on women and girls, restricting access to family planning in resource-limited settings can cut women off from a primary source of HIV prevention and counseling services, as well as contraceptives. Limiting the scope of family planning programs also risked increasing rates of mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

The Global Gag Rule, first introduced by President Ronald Reagan in 1984 in Mexico City at the United Nations International Conference on Population, was an expansion of the ban on U.S. funding for abortion-related services enshrined in the 1961 Foreign Assistance Act. Any organization’s refusal to comply with the ban’s restrictions resulted in discontinuation of U.S. funding, even if the group provided other valuable services such as reproductive health education, gynecological care, and HIV testing. The severity of the policy gave rise to its colloquial name, the “Global Gag Rule.”

The Global Gag Rule was rescinded during the first days of the Clinton administration, but was reinstated by President George W. Bush in 2001. In an effort to halt the partisan conflict that has persisted through previous administrations over the rule, amfAR will work with Congress and the Obama administration to develop a long-term legislative solution to the issue.

Preventing unintended pregnancies is one of the primary strategies for limiting mother-to-child transmission of HIV. Advice on family planning and access to contraceptives are key components of that effort. By rescinding the Global Gag Rule, President Obama has strengthened access to family planning services and removed a significant impediment to healthcare professionals working to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS. The freedom of organizations once again to offer vital services and information to women represents a landmark victory for women’s health, HIV prevention, and social justice.