In less than two weeks in office, President Obama has made a number of major policy changes that with potentially positive outcomes regarding global peace and justice. Whilst his admonition of torture as a legitimate tool of war and promise to close Guantanamo within the year featured prominently, an equally significant decision was quietly made: reversing the Global Gag rule.
What does that have to do with global peace and justice? Historically, the US has been the biggest funder of overseas health and family planning programs in the developing world. This funding has ensured that women and children in poor countries have had access to basic health care - including maternal and infant health services - and couples have had access to family planning and reproductive health services. US funding effectively ensured that people in the developing world could fulfil a swathe of basic human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration. It also meant that developing states could, at least theoretically, move along the path toward full socio-economic development.
The US position became problematic under the Regan administration when right-wing religious groups had the ear of the White House. These groups, many of them Christian fundamentalist, objected to abortion on dogmatic/ideological grounds, and campaigned against US funding of health services that included abortion. US funding to the UNFPA was slashed and many programs shut as a result of lack of income. Funding resumed post Regan and open US political support was restored under Clinton.
And then came the Dark Ages.....
President Bush jnr signed what has become known as the Global Gag rule. This strict ruling cut US funding to any agency - US or overseas - that provided services where abortion might be counselled as an option. Note: this did not cut funding for abortion, it cut funding to organisations or clinics that offered information on abortion, even if it did not perform abortions. This meant that organisations and clinics that provided important health - primary, maternal, infant, reproductive - services to people in the developing world were starved of vital funds: many closed as a result. The Global Gag rule was a direct contravention of global justice on so many levels, particularly to the UDHR.
And then came Obama....
Very quietly, on Friday January 23rd, without the cameras present (let's face it, no one wants to piss off the anti-abortion movement), President Obama rescinded the Global Gag rule. US funding to overseas health services will be restored. People of the developing world will once more have access to the vital services they are entitled to.