One of President Joe Biden’s first acts will be to revoke the ban on American aid for foreign charities providing abortions, reigniting a 36-year tug-of-war between Democratic and Republican presidents, and releasing $9billion of US federal funds.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, told the World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday morning that the “global gag rule” would be repealed in the next few days as part of the new administration’s “commitment to protect women’s health and advance gender equality at home and around the world”.
The rule was first implemented by President Ronald Reagan in 1985, and is officially known as the “Mexico City policy”, because of the location of the United Nations International Conference on Population and Development, where it was announced a year earlier.
The move was designed to block US federal funding for any non governmental organisations (NGOs) that provide access to abortion, abortion counselling or that campaign for decriminalisation of the medical procedure, as part of their family planning services.
Since then, every Democratic president has removed it, including Bill Clinton in 1993 and Barack Obama in 2009, and every Republican commander-in-chief has reinstated it, including George H W Bush in 1989, George W Bush in 2001 and Mr Trump in 2017.
It has been in place for 20 out of 36 years.
Reinstating it was one of President Trump’s first acts in office, signing the order three days after his inauguration, and renaming it: “Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance”.
But under his administration the policy was expanded even further.
In May 2017 the ban, which previously covered around $600million in family planning funds, was applied to all American international health care, totalling an estimated $9billion, including HIV, nutrition, tuberculosis and malaria programmes.
Scientific papers published in peer-reviewed journals, like The Lancet in 2019, have since claimed that the policy is counter-productive and has the unintended effect of actually increasing unintended pregnancies and abortions.
“President Biden will be revoking the ‘Mexico City policy’ in the coming days as part of his broader commitment to protect women’s health and advance gender equality at home and around the world,” Dr Fauci told the group’s annual executive board meeting, as reported in The Guardian.
The meeting also marked the start of a thaw in WHO and US relations.
Dr Fauci, the chief medical adviser, announced today that America would be remaining a member, after Trump announced a withdrawal back in May because it was allegedly too “China-centric”.
They will also be formally joining Covax, a programme that pools international funds to buy vaccines and equally distribute them around the world.
“I am honoured to announce the US will remain a member of the WHO,” Dr Fauci said, paying tribute to the WHO’s “relentless” work and calling the director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, “my dear friend”.
Mr Tedros called Dr Fauci “my brother Tony”.
“This is a good day for the WHO and a good day for global health,” he added.