Celebrating the International Day for Maternal Health and Rights

Today, Ibis stands with our partners around the world in recognition of the International Day for Maternal Health and Rights. We believe that every person deserves access to the full range of reproductive health support and options, including abortion, as they seek maternal care. Over the past year, two major threats have further underscored the importance of comprehensive maternal health care: the Zika virus outbreak and the reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy, commonly known as the Global Gag Rule. Both highlight the need for comprehensive care — including the right to access safe abortion for all people.

The Global Gag Rule prevents health care providers around the world who receive US funding from offering comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care, forcing them to agree not to provide abortion services, information, or referrals, even if those activities are funded by other sources and even if those services are legal. This policy backs international reproductive health care providers into a corner, making them chose between US funding and providing comprehensive education and services to the communities they serve. The consequences of the Global Gag Rule are dire: denying information about and access to needed reproductive health services leads to a rise in unintended pregnancy, unsafe abortion, and maternal deaths. Ibis’s work has demonstrated the damaging impact public funding restrictions cause women and providers, and has shown that the United States is a global outlier when it comes to restricting public funding of abortion.

The negative impact of the Global Gag Rule is drawn into even sharper relief by its impact on efforts to address the Zika virus outbreak. Given the disparities in access to the full range of pregnancy decision-making options in places most impacted by the virus, enabling standardized, comprehensive access to all options is more necessary than ever. Regardless of legal setting, reproductive health care for women impacted by Zika should include asking about pregnancy intendedness, counseling about pregnancy decision-making, provision of information about available services women can access legally, and information on how to reduce risks of unsafe abortion. However, the Global Gag Rule prohibits service providers receiving US funding from giving information about safe and/or legal abortion in their areas. We have documented some of the many ways in which people are harmed when they don’t have access to safe, affordable, high-quality care. Women around the world deserve better.

This International Day for Maternal Health and Rights, we celebrate our colleagues and partners who persist in their work to improve maternal health — particularly at a time when the US has eliminated its funding for the critical work of the UNFPA. Ibis will continue to hold steadfast in our belief that safe abortion is a key component of maternal health care and produce bold, innovative research that can point the way to improved access to the full range of reproductive health options for all women. Please join us in celebrating International Day for Maternal Health and Rights on Twitter and Facebook using #IntlMHDay.