Saturday, January 24, 2009
President Obama's decision in his first days to reverse the so-called "global gag rule" or "Mexico City policy" barring international aid connected to abortion led me back to some of the excellent scholarship that has occurred in this area. For ConLawProfs, the issue has always been a problematic one in terms of pure doctrine. Roe v. Wade does not apply to foreign aid or women outside the United States, but does that mean the issue is not a constitutional one? And what exactly is this "global gag rule" anyway?
Nina J. Crimm of St John’s Law School, in her article, The Global Gag Rule: Undermining National Interests By Doing Unto Foreign Women And NGOs What Cannot Be Done At Home, 40 Cornell Int'l L.J. 587 (2007), is a great place to start to look for an answer to these questions.
Professor Crimm does an excellent job of providing the history of the global gag rule starting in the 1960s, discussing the national interests supporting it, and elucidating the harms to NGOs. She briefly argues that the global gag rule could be unconstitutional under equal protection principles if it applied to US women. Her main argument concerns the First Amendment and “unconstitutional conditions” doctrines based on funding, but again with the caveat if the “restrictions that are imposed on foreign NGOs were imposed on domestically formed NGOs.” Thus, despite her carefully crafted constitutional arguments, her ultimate point is a non-constitutional one:
The United States holds itself up to the world as a model democracy based on fundamental and equal rights for individuals and organizations. Accompanying this role is the responsibility to permit abroad what must be permitted at home.
Id. at 618.
Crimm is not alone in her conclusions. The UC-Davis Journal of International Law and Policy devoted a Symposium to “Family Planning and AIDS Policy in the International Community” in 2006. Berta Esperanza Hernández-Truyol of University of Florida College of Law has a particularly compelling piece, On Disposable People And Human Well-Being: Health, Money And Power, 13 U.C. Davis J. Int'l L. & Pol'y 35 (2006). She argues:
An analysis of the gag rule reveals that it can be interpreted as an imperial power move that contributes to the deterioration of health. It deploys economic power to ignore sovereignty and subtract from human well-being. The policy purposely denies access to funds that enable the provision of health education, supplies, and services simply to implement political ideology. Ironically, while claiming a policy of preventing loss of life through prohibition of abortion, the gag rule policy actually costs more lives by not engaging in programs that can reduce maternal and infant mortality. Significantly, the policy also deleteriously results in more orphans (who are usually left in very vulnerable and unstable situations) and in the failure to provide certain services and supplies necessary for HIV/AIDS victims. This reveals a direct link between economic power (quantity of aid) and availability of service.
Id. at 64.
Again, this is not a “constitutional law” argument, but an international law and policy one. A host of other articles on the subject, most of them reaching similar conclusions as these articles by Berta Esperanza Hernández-Truyol and Nina J. Crimm, also might at first seem rather “tangential” to ConLawProfs, except as we discuss Executive and Legislative powers in “foreign affairs.”
But our students (at least mine) often raise issues of "rights" in international contexts. An interesting – and quite lengthy – article by Scott L. Cummings of UCLA published last year, The Internationalization Of Public Interest Law, 57 Duke L.J. 891 (2008), implicitly contends that “rights” may be shifting away from the Constitution. Here’s the abstract:
This Article describes and explains the influence of global change on American public interest law over the past quarter-century. It suggests that contemporary public interest lawyers, unlike their civil rights-era predecessors, operate in a professional environment integrated into the global political economy in ways that have profound implications for whom they represent, where they advocate, and what sources of law they invoke. The Article provides a preliminary map of this professional environment by tracing the impact of three defining transnational processes on the development of the modern public interest law system: the increasing magnitude and changing composition of immigration, the development and expansion of free market policies and institutions, and the rise of the international human rights movement. It then suggests how each of these processes has contributed to institutional revisions within the U.S. public interest system: the rise of immigrant rights as a distinctive category of public interest practice, the emergence of transnational advocacy as a response to the impact of free market policies abroad, and the movement to promote domestic human rights both as a way to resist free market policies at home and to defend civil rights and civil liberties in the face of domestic conservatism and antiterrorism. After mapping the institutional scope and texture of these trends, the Article appraises their influence on the goals public interest lawyers pursue, the tactics they deploy, and the professional roles they assume in the modern era.
So it seems that Obama's reversal of the "global gag rule" has a solid foundation in legal scholarship.