Women's rights activists in Kenya have welcomed U.S. President Joe Biden’s order revoking the ban blocking U.S. funding to women’s health organizations that provide abortion or abortion-related services. Critics say the so-called gag rule left women uninformed about safe options to end a pregnancy.
Forty-five-year-old Najma Wangoi lost her sister in 2018 after she bought medicine from a drug store to induce an abortion and it led to her death.
The mother of two says her sister didn’t know there was a better way to end a pregnancy.
“She didn’t know because she bought those medicines for 3,500 shillings ($35). If she knew there was a place to do a safe abortion, she would still be alive. She should have explained her situation to the hospital, and she would have been treated,” Wangoi said.
Under the global gag rule, originally enacted by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and revived by President Donald Trump, it became difficult for millions of women to seek abortion services at health centers receiving U.S. funds.
The gag rule blocked U.S. government funding for organizations if they provided abortion services, counseling or referrals.
The rule effectively shut down health clinics, as well as community sensitization programs about sexual and reproductive health.
Boniface Ushie, researcher with the African Population and Health Research Center, says while the ban has now been lifted by U.S. President Joe Biden, it will not be enough to undo the effects it had on women’s health in Africa.
“Lifting it is great, but it’s going to take a while for the impact of the global gag rule as instituted by Trump to begin to lift. So, it's going to require a lot of funding. It's going to require a lot of programs to undo what has been done over the past four years,” Ushie said.
Thirty-three-year-old Rose Akoth said she is lucky to be alive after taking tablets to abort a baby in 2019. After three days of pain, the fetus emerged but the placenta got stuck in her womb, requiring urgent medical attention.
“I have a health problem now since I did the abortion because it didn’t come out well. These days my menstruation goes for a month and there is nothing I am using like family planning. My menstrual period goes on non-stop,” she said.
Akoth, Wangoi and others hope that with the gag rule lifted, more women can be saved from abortion-related deaths and health crises.