I have a special affinity for the issue of the Gag Rule, one that's wrapped up in my feminist-coming-of-age story.
Growing up, my parents weren't particularly outspoken regarding politics; I knew my parents voted Republican but I never really knew why and didn't really care. In my high school civics class, I took a survey on various political positions and was a little surprised to see my viewpoints were decidedly liberal and I was closely aligned with the Democratic party - although now I think I was just surprised because I assumed I'd have Republican leanings as opposed to being surprised based on policies.
When I went off to college, I became more politically aware, but not active. Aware, but on a distant level where it was all theoretical. One day, my friend invited me to an informational meeting about the March for Women's Lives in 2004. I went and signed up, but it was all so ... abstract. I didn't quite realize exactly what was at stake and how large of a march it was until we got there and literally, my world changed.
We took a 30 hour bus ride from St. Paul, MN to Washington D.C. My friend and I couldn't afford a hotel room, so we contacted students at Georgetown and we ended up staying at another student's house on their floor with other marchers. They were radical lesbians and really fun, given that we were awkward college freshman from the midwest... Also my first introduction to The L Word was a poster in their bathroom, but my love for The L Word is another story.
The March was amazing and life changing and still to this day, when I found out my current roommate was also at the March, we hugged. Never before had I been surrounded by so many people passionate about what they believed in, and fighting for sovereignty of their own bodies. I was afraid to tell my parents that I was going to the March, believing that their politics and religion would disapprove and they'd be disappointed in me. I waited until I was on the bus to tell them I was going (not that I thought they'd stop me... just that I put it off as long as possible), but my expectations and fears were unfounded. Instead of disappointment, my mom was proud of what I was doing (although she thought staying with strangers in DC was a little sketchy) and the experience opened up discussions on my family's history between my mom, sister and I. Looking back, I only wish they could have been there with me, but I'm sure there will be many opportunities in the future.
After a virus attacked my computer junior year of college, I lost a bunch of my photos. They might be on discs somewhere, but I'm not holding out hope for those. This blurry picture-of-a-pictures might be the only picture I have of my roommates and I at the March for Women's Lives. I didn't have a sweatshirt and I was kinda cold.
After returning from the trip, I ditched my paper topic for my Model United Nations class and instead opted to write on the Global Gag Rule and its impact in Africa. Here's my closing paragraphs from my paper (be kind... I was 18 when I wrote this):
The most obvious solution is to revoke the Global Gag Rule immediately, restoring funding to cut programs like the International Planned Parenthood Foundation and allowing other NGOs to speak freely on reproductive health choices. The Global Gag Rule doesn’t affect the level of abortions because it doesn’t affect the occurrence of unwanted pregnancies. It only forces clinics that offer education on family planning and reproductive health to discontinue services, and in drastic cases but not uncommon, to close. The Gag Rule “causes more unwanted pregnancies, more unsafe abortions, and arguably, more deaths” (The Global Gag Rule: Putting Politics Before Public Health, 2004). The Global Gag Rule is one flounced by pro-life politicians, but in all reality is as anti-life as possible. This rule demeans women and puts the personal choice of reproductive health into the hands of male politicians on a different continent, thousands of miles away.It's a little odd to read something I wrote five years ago, but the opinions I expressed there haven't changed. I might cringe at some of the phrases and bright-eyed optimism, but since I wrote that, things have gotten worse. The Bush administration has cast a eight-year shadow over the world, slashing funding for groups that even discuss women's health, all in the name of religious and moral absolutes.
While many NGOs are cutting back on reproductive health services in order to keep US funding, several have denied US backing in order to continue informing women, men and couples on contraceptives, family planning and safe abortions. Supporting these programs is the best way to directly help and influence the reproductive freedom of people in other countries.
The likelihood of the Gag Rule being revoked before November 2004 is incredibly slim, considering the current state of affairs. Hopefully in January 2005 the new president will attend to this matter, but until then there’s still things that can be done. Contacting your state representatives and voicing your opinion is an option that applies to all issues concerning citizens, and works well in this situation as well. Raising public awareness of Bush’s war against women not only increases your commitment to seeing change, but also impassions other individuals who feel strongly about it as well. The influence of the Internet is a major force in politics these days, as seen in the rise and fall of Howard Dean. There are groups that you can get in contact with, and if none suit your specific needs, create a group. Most importantly, all citizens need to go out and vote in the presidential election. If you don’t vote, then you don’t have a right to complain about the state of affairs. Being a concerned citizen involves taking an active part in shaping and molding how the future of the United States looks.
In President Bush’s State of the Union address, he singled out Africa as a primary place for receiving HIV/AIDS education and drugs. Sadly, Africa is also the place where the global gag rule devastatingly impacts the hardest, causing hundreds of people to die from being denied the basic human right of family planning and access to education and information. The level of unintended pregnancy is lowest in countries with greatest access to effective methods of contraception and where women play a major role in family decision-making (Family Planning: A Human Right). In an effort to influence the entire world and push one faction’s ideals, the United States has managed to alienate itself and anger many people, domestic and foreign alike. The current status quo is unacceptable, and the statistics are overwhelmingly tragic. The Mexico City Policy needs to be revoked as soon as possible, in order to free the world from this gag rule implemented by conservatives whose idea of sex education is no education. Women and children are dying from the effects of this “pro-life” policy, and that must be stopped immediately.
For the past eight years the Global Gag Rule has stood as a reminder of my feminist awakening and my ever present awareness that as a privileged nation, the United States isn't doing enough for our sisters suffering in this world. To finally see it written out of law will be a good day indeed.