Respect for Whose Life? by Jan Brazill

Respect for Whose Life?

by Jan Brazill

March 1, 2017


Our newly elected president has just rushed to reinstate the “Mexico City policy,” otherwise known as the “global gag rule.” This prevents non-governmental organizations working abroad from receiving federal funding for family planning if they perform abortions or even talk to their clients about abortion. (The rule applies even though clinics are prohibited from using US funds for abortions anyway.)

Many of these groups don’t do abortions, but when a pregnancy “goes wrong” (as in an ectopic pregnancy when the fetus grows outside the womb), they would no longer be able to advise women how to obtain a safe abortion. Abortions are also needed for personal reasons, such as rape. As a result, many groups are refusing the funding under the new restrictions. President Trump’s ac on has created a $600 million funding gap in family-planning programs worldwide — programs that help women by providing birth control, offering sex education, and assuring that women are assisted at birth so that childbirth may be safer. Rather than see all this progress be wasted, one country is taking action!

The Dutch government is setting up an international fund, and up to twenty countries and several foundations have already pledged their support. Lilianne Ploumen, Dutch minister of foreign trade and development cooperation, promised that the Netherlands would do everything in their power to help women “remain in control of their own bodies.” “These are successful and effective programmes: direct support, distributing condoms, making sure women are accompanied at the birth, and making sure abortion is safe if they have no other choice,” Ploumen said.

So now that President Trump has relinquished world leadership to the Dutch on this issue, perhaps we should take a better look at this Mexico City policy. It is actually a religious issue around the very concept of “life.” It makes two assumptions: first, that the baby’s life is more important than the mother’s, and second, that women are not capable of making their own decisions about events in their own family units.

The gag rule started with President Reagan, and every Republican president since then has enforced it. After President George W Bush re-imposed it in 2001, a consortium of NGOs, led by Population Action International, organized a study to assess the policy’s effects. Between 2002 and 2006, the research teams made site visits to Ghana, the Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nepal, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.  They found that in Kenya, for example, the gag rule led to the termination of critical activities run by the Family Planning Association of Kenya and Marie Stopes International (MSI) Kenya — the leading providers of health care to people living in poor and rural communities in the country. Enforcement of the policy drastically curtailed community-based outreach activities and the flow and availability of contraceptive supplies. Government clinics, exempt from the gag rule, were never able to pick up the slack nor regain the trust of women turned away by the NGOs.

President Carter understood this. He severed ties with his church for using Bible verses to deprive women of equal rights across the world, saying it “costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment, and influence within their own communities.”

If only more people would learn this important lesson!


This essay was originally published in the Freethinkers of Colorado Springs "Freethought Views" column in the Colorado Springs Independent on March 1, 2017 with the quotation below.

"Patriarchy is women structuring lifelong decisions around men they haven't met."

Maggie Young


Jan Brazill was a former computer systems analyst at the United States Air Force Academy, a longtime member of the Freethinkers of Colorado Springs, a long time contributor to and former editor of the Freethought Views column in the Colorado Springs Independent, and an assertive, powerful, and rational voice advocating for reason and women's rights, human, rights, civil rights, reproductive rights, the separation of church and state, and freedom from religion. She died On May 15, 2020 at the age of 93. Ms. Brazill's last column in Freethought Views, "Colorado Frees Women," appeared in January 2020.