(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Congressman Jamie Raskin (MD-08) today joined Congresswoman Jackie Speier (CA-14), Co-Chair of the Democratic Women’s Caucus, Pro-Choice Caucus Co-Chairs Reps. Barbara Lee (CA-13) and Diana DeGette (CO-1), Appropriations Committee Chair Nita Lowey (NY-17) and Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Eliot Engel (NY-16) in sending a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Trump Administration urging them to take immediate action to exempt emergency global health funding appropriated by Congress for the COVID-19 response from the dangerous and inefficient global gag rule and to provide a humanitarian exemption to allow the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to compete for emergency supplemental funding. The letter was signed by 109 of their U.S. House of Representative colleagues. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, and Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) sent a companion letter in the U.S. Senate signed by themselves and 19 other Senators.

In the House letter the Members noted that, “(s)ince January 2017, the administration’s expanded global gag rule has disrupted the delivery of health care services supported by U.S. global health assistance, and negatively impacted people who already face systemic barriers to care. A recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) highlighted that the global gag rule has resulted in the denial of more than 50 global health awards, spanning HIV/AIDS, family planning and reproductive health, maternal and child health, tuberculosis, and even nutrition programs… . We know from the recent epidemics of Ebola and Zika that global health crises expose fragile health systems and magnify existing inequalities, compounding the negative impact of a policy like the global gag rule. We must ensure emergency funds can flow to the health care providers and community-based organizations that are best qualified and equipped to respond to this crisis and continue to provide essential, life-saving services even amid a pandemic.

The Members added that, “(t)this critical need also extends to UNFPA. Since April 2017, this administration has made an annual decision to withhold funding for UNFPA under the Kemp-Kasten amendment, despite evidence that UNFPA has been a leader in promoting the human rights of women and girls and promoting voluntary and informed choice.”

The letter highlights recent analysis by the Guttmacher Institute that found the impact of the current pandemic on sexual and reproductive health and demonstrates the urgency of these requests. Even a 10 percent decrease in access to sexual and reproductive care in 132 low- and middle-income countries—covering 1.6 billion women of reproductive age—will result in an additional 15 million unintended pregnancies; three million unsafe abortions and 1,000 maternal deaths due to unsafe abortions. Additionally, 1.7 million more women will give birth and 2.6 million newborns will experience major complications but not receive the care they need, resulting in an additional 28,000 maternal deaths and 168,000 newborn deaths.

The Members also make clear the vast reach and need for the UNFPA – which works in more than 150 countries worldwide, including many areas suffering from conflict and other security risks that bar the U.S.’s direct engagement – to provide family planning resources and end preventable maternal deaths, gender-based violence (GBV), and other harmful practices, such as female genital mutilation and child, early, and forced marriage. UNFPA has also been essential to the global COVID-19 pandemic response, focusing resources on strengthening health system capacity, ensuring access to sexual and reproductive health services, promoting risk communication and community engagement, and procuring and delivering essential supplies, including personal protective equipment (PPE). UNFPA is also the primary UN agency leading efforts to prevent and respond to GBV, which has increased significantly since the beginning of the pandemic.

The Members requested that the Department of State, at a minimum, take the following actions to protect and expand health care access during the COVID-19 pandemic:

  1. Utilize the State Department authority, in consultation with the Department of Health and Human Services, to exempt global health funding provided through emergency legislation from the dangerous and inefficient global gag rule restrictions to ensure that all organizations are eligible to receive emergency funding and provide essential health care services to the communities most in need.
  2. Provide a humanitarian exemption to the Kemp-Kasten determination, to allow UNFPA to be eligible to apply for emergency supplemental funding to support global efforts to address COVID-19.

The Senate letter, led by Senator Patty Murray and Senator Jeanne Shaheen, included a similar list of requests—calling up the Administration to, at a minimum, exempt emergency global health funding from Global Gag Rule restrictions, provide a humanitarian exemption to the Kemp-Kasten determination, and halt work on a Fiscal Year 2020 Kemp-Kasten determination and allow appropriate funding go to UNFPA.

“We write with extreme concern about the effect of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) on access to and the availability of sexual and reproductive health globally. The United States should be a leader in addressing this pandemic, rather than lagging behind and allowing ideological objections to drive decision-making and contribute to poor access to health care,’ wrote the Senators. “Ideological actions taken by the Trump-Pence Administration, like reinstating and expanding the Global Gag Rule, otherwise known as the Mexico City Policy or the Protecting Life In Global Health Assistance Policy, and defunding the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), undermine global access to sexual and reproductive health care, which needlessly endangers health care workers and their patients worldwide. We urge you to reconsider policies that prevent the United States from partnering fully with entities best positioned to deliver lifesaving care and supplies amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Ideology is no excuse for hampering the international response to COVID-19, jeopardizing hard-won progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS, or failing to act as access to contraceptive care decreases and gender-based violence increases.”

A copy of the House letter can be found here. A copy of the Senate letter can be found here