Catholic Groups Urge Congress to Overturn Global Gag Rule
Say Policy “Lacking in Compassion”
WASHINGTON, DC—Messages from several progressive Catholic leaders are being sent to Members of Congress, stressing that Catholics support international family planning initiatives and oppose the “global gag rule,” which would weaken U.S. commitment to family planning options. Five of the organizations—Catholics Speak Out, Dignity/USA, National Coalition of American Nuns, Women-Church Convergence and the Catholics for Contraception campaign initiated by Catholics for a Free Choice—said, in agreement with all major independent polling in the U.S., that Catholics support family planning.
Voces Católicas also sent a statement from Catholic leaders in Argentina, Bolivia, Brasil, Chile, Colombia and Mexico attesting that women’s reproductive health is at serious risk in Latin American countries and that the global gag rule, which the Bush administration reinstated, does nothing to reduce the incidence of abortion in the developing world or meet the real needs of women.
The messages came in response to a conservative effort in the House to strike an amendment sponsored by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and passed by the House International Relations Committee last week. The amendment overturned the global gag rule barring U.S. funding from going to international family planning agencies that provide abortions or work on the issue of abortion, even if they undertake such work with their own funds. A vote to strike Lee’s amendment from HR 1646, the State Department Authorization bill, is expected to come to the floor for a vote this week.
While each of the groups focus on distinct issues within the Catholic church and in society in general, all seven came together to stress that the majority of Catholic opinion supports contraception and access to family planning. U.S. funding distributed to international family planning agencies is spent on increasing the availability of contraceptives and condoms. Under existing law, U.S. funds are not used for abortions. The global gag rule will do nothing to reduce the number of abortions; it will instead result in more maternal deaths and increased cases of sexually transmitted disease and HIV/AIDS in developing countries.
Catholics know that contraception saves lives by allowing women to space pregnancies to benefit themselves and their children, and reduces the need for abortion. Nearly 230 million women worldwide want to use contraception but cannot afford it without help from U.S.-funded family planning services. In addition, 79% of Catholics support international family planning programs (Belden Russonello & Stewart poll, 1998).
In one of the letters to Congress, Sister Mary Ann Cunningham, board chair of the National Coalition of American Nuns, says, “We prayerfully urge Congress to take a stand for life by passing this amendment.”