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NGOs unaware of Gag Rule exceptions on abortion

Under the gag rule, the US blocks funding for NGOs that advocate decriminalization of abortion

A 16-year-old student of Osogbo Government High in Osogbo, Osun State, Elizabeth (real name withheld) was allegedly raped by her financial accounting teacher, Gbenga Ayeni on Sunday, February 16, 2020.

She was in her school drama group, and he’d promised to connect her with popular stars so she could venture into Nollywood and become a star too.

“That was how he lured me to a hotel at Latona area in Osogbo and raped me,” the girl recalls.

The teacher threatened her against telling anyone. Her father is a pastor and very strict. She knew it would be a double jeopardy to face her dad to talk about pregnancy. That might be the end of her education.

“I was afraid of telling my Dad. I was not ready to become a mother. I really want to be able to complete my education. I went to my teacher and told him. He advised me to put plenty salt in water and drink it and assured me that everything would be normal. I drank the salt water as he suggested and bled for 15 days. God saved me.”

Unlike Elizabeth, another girl in Osogbo, Feranmi was not lucky. She was 17 when she was raped and became pregnant.

She did not want to keep the pregnancy , and died trying to get rid of it.

According to her sister, Biodun, “We are orphans. Our parents have died. When Feranmi realised that she was pregnant, she decided that she cannot keep it because she was raped. It’s a long story. The NGO she contacted for counselling and referrals did not offer any of such. Someone eventually introduced her to a man said to be an expert in abortion. The man gave her an injection and she started bleeding later in the day. We lost her. It was unfortunate.”

These are just two out of thousands of such cases happening daily unnoticed.

Records of deaths from unsafe abortions are almost absent in Osun. But the problem persists, and young girls continue to take the risk and fall victim.

Some survive, others die needlessly.

Daily Trust contacted Osun State Commissioner for Health, Dr Rafiu Isamotu to supply data about abortion in the state but he could not provide it.

An expert in female reproductive system, Dr Steve Lemadoro said in 2017, about 1.8 – 2.7 million abortions occurred in Nigeria while 56 million abortions occurred every year globally, out of which 25million are unsafe, causing death of 55,700 women yearly.

Only the lucky ones are alive to share their stories with many of them harbouring one reproductive challenge or the other while the not so lucky ones are dead.

Many NGOs were not offering counselling and referrals to women concerning abortion because of the Mexico City Policy, also known as Global Gag Rule (GGR).

Under the gag rule, the US blocks funding for NGOs that advocate decriminalization of abortion, provide abortion counselling or referrals or expand abortion services.

But the US remains the single largest donor country to global health efforts.

However, there are certain exceptions to the GGR but most NGOS were not aware of the exceptions.

The Executive Director of Association of Icon Life Changing Empowerment, Sunday Ochulor Eze, said the organization was aware of GGR but unaware of the exceptions.

Mrs Oroyemi Elizabeth Olanike, the Executive Director of Oroyemi Elizabeth Covenant Home and Care Centre, Mrs Bukola Ejiade, the Executive Director of Heritage Life Support Initiative and Mr Bukola Idowu, the Executive Director of KIMPACT Development Initiative, (KDI), a leading NGO with focus on youths said they were not aware of GGR exceptions.

Similarly, Mrs Eni Ayeni, the Executive Director of Community Advancement Initiative for Self Reliance (CAI4SR); and Fehintola Obilomo, the Executive Director of Caring Hands International

Mr Dare Adeoye, the Osun State Coordinator of Legal Defence and Assistant Project, Mr Babatunde Omole, the Executive President of Garnet Youth Development Foundation, Folasade Oyinlola, the Executive Director of KISMET Treasure Foundation and Mr Stephen Aremu, the Executive Director, Hope for Family Development said they were not aware of GGR exceptions.

Surprisingly, only Value Female Network seemed to know about GGR exceptions among the NGO contacted by our reporter.

The Executive Director of Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC), Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi explained that GGR has limited women from legally accessing abortion in situations outside the exemptions provided in the rule and that this has led to denial of lawful abortion and reproductive health autonomy. “The GGR succeeded in creating gender-based discrimination against women thereby violating their fundamental human rights in terms of decision making as regards to her body,” she lamented.

She said “as the single largest donor country to global health efforts therefore any decision the U.S make to support global health is expected to have far-reaching impacts on sexual and reproductive health and other health initiatives across the world.”

Akiyode-Afolabi while highlighting the GGR exceptions said the rule provided that abortion can be considered in cases of rape and incest or where the life of a pregnant woman is being threatened and unable to carry the foetus. Speaking further on the exception, Akiode-Afolabi said both U.S. NGOs and foreign NGOs may not use U.S. foreign assistance funds to engage in biomedical research on abortion. U.S. NGOs, however, may use funds obtained from other sources to do such research.

According to her, “Foreign NGOs do not risk their eligibility for global health assistance if they engage in certain kinds of research on the subject of abortion. In addition to keeping routine information on clients’ abortion histories, organizations may collect information on the general incidence of abortion and its causes, the health impact of illegal abortion including related deaths and injuries, and its cost to the health care delivery system. These types of epidemiological or descriptive research can be supported with USG assistance” she said.

She also said that the U.S NGOs can continue to perform, counsel, refer or advocate on abortion with funds from non-US government sources without risking their eligibility to receive U.S. global health assistance. The only requirement imposed on U.S. NGOs by the policy is the responsibility to flow-down the requirement to their foreign NGO partners, who are sub-recipients of U.S. global health assistance. She said post-abortion care, including “treatment of injuries or illnesses caused by legal or illegal abortions is part of the exceptions.

She continued “The policy does not prohibit foreign NGOs from providing any available method of contraception approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), including emergency contraception (EC), as part of the health services they offer. All NGOs receiving global health assistance may provide contraceptive counselling, dispense contraceptive supplies and services, and promote awareness of contraceptive methods in accordance with local laws and policies.”

“The restrictions apply to organizations, not individuals. An individual associated with a foreign NGO subject to the policy may engage in activities in their private capacity that would be prohibited if carried out by the organization itself. An individual may engage in such otherwise restricted activities as long as he or she is neither on duty nor acting on the organization’s premises, the organization does not endorse or fund the action, and reasonable steps are taken to ensure that the individual does not improperly represent that he or she is acting on behalf of the organization.”

“NGOs may receive and use USG assistance to provide contraceptive counselling and services to women who have had spontaneous or induced abortions, including illegal abortions. Organizations may communicate and coordinate activities with any other foreign NGOs, including abortion service providers, in order to facilitate post-abortion contraceptive or reproductive health services.

“The policy does not preclude the use of demographic and health research on abortion by certain NGOs (such as a U.S. NGO or a foreign NGO which does not receive USG assistance) to lobby foreign governments to legalize abortion. A foreign NGO that only receives USG global health funding as a vendor of goods or services (e.g., computer support, management or office supplies) to a prime recipient or sub-recipient of global health assistance funding is not required to accept the provision of the policy”, she said.

“Also exempted from the rule are organizations that only have an individual participating in the “general training program” of an organization receiving USG global health assistance (i.e., a general training activity involving individual participants from an organization and humanitarian assistance, including State Department migration and refugee assistance as well as USAID and Department of Defense disaster and humanitarian relief activities. Multilateral or public international organizations such as WHO, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and other multilateral entities such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, as well as GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, are exempt from the policy.

“Health services provided under the auspices of foreign governments (national and sub-national) and parastatals are exempt from the policy. If public sector programs furnish abortion “as a method of family planning” or engage in other prohibited abortion related activities, governments and parastatals are required to keep USG foreign assistance in a segregated account to ensure that no U.S. funds are used for these prohibited activities. Medical equipment purchased with U.S. funds as well as facilities supported by U.S. funds may not be used to provide induced abortion services,” she said.

“The exemption for foreign governments also applies to government-operated universities and hospitals, including, for example, medical schools and teaching hospitals which provide abortion services as part of comprehensive health care or engage in abortion related research. The exemption also applies to government-sponsored health advisory councils, which are free to engage in research; disseminate public information about the incidence, causes or consequences of unsafe abortion; and participate in the development of national policies related to abortion,” she stated.

Akiyode-Afolabi said, “The global gag rule undermines U.S. foreign policy objectives that encourage the building of democracy, civil society, and women’s participation as equals in society. It runs counter to the U.S. commitment to women’s reproductive rights and health,” Akiode-Afolabi said.