01/11/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Repeal the Global Gag Rule

The economic crisis demands bold and immediate action, with resources mobilized at every level to restore growth and stability. The fight to achieve progressive change on energy, health, education, and environmental policy will require years of sustained effort against determined opposition. With Barack Obama's leadership, we are ready to wage these battles, but let's remember that there are also immediate actions that will achieve dramatic positive results quickly.

President Obama and the new Congress can place American foreign policy firmly on the side of free speech, of women's health, and of doctors and care providers, who understand that family planning is a cornerstone of social stability, economic growth, and public health in the developing world. And we can do it quickly, simply, cleanly, without a penny of cost to the taxpayers.

Just repeal the "Global Gag Rule."

This rule, which has been a major priority for conservatives, was first enacted by Ronald Reagan in 1984 and restored eight years ago by George W. Bush. The rule restricts U.S. family planning assistance -- including donated contraceptives that prevent unintended pregnancies -- from going to foreign NGOs that use funding from any other source to perform abortions; provide counseling and referral for abortion; or lobby to make abortion legal or more available in their country.

If applied here in the United States, such a rule would be patently unconstitutional, a violation of free speech. Abroad, it is responsible for untold misery and, in tragic irony, has almost certainly increased the number of unintended pregnancies and put millions of women's and children's lives at risk. International maternal and reproductive health organizations often provide the only health services in some third world villages. Many refuse to comply with this regulation that endangers their patients and forego U.S. aid, scaling back their capacity. Other providers accept the funding and with it the constraints that prevent them from offering what are often life-saving services.

Since President Bush reinstated the "Global Gag Rule" on his first day in office, my fight to overturn it has been stymied by Republican majorities, then veto threats. In typical fashion, the Bush Administration has resisted reasonable compromise. Just a year ago, the foreign aid bill I authored would have allowed the federal government to donate contraceptives to international health organizations. This compromise passed Congress with the support of pro-choice and pro-life Members, but President Bush threatened to veto all funding for international aid to prevent it from becoming law.

I look forward to working in the new Congress with the Obama Administration to finally repeal the "Global Gag Rule," as we pledged in the Democratic National Platform during the campaign. Few actions would benefit more people with less effort, or send a more dramatic signal to the world that America is prepared once again to be a leader for individual rights, personal dignity, and commonsense policy that saves lives.

The author is Chairwoman of the House Appropriations State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee.