Media release: foreign minister commended on lifting gag rule

11 March 2009

Media Releases 2009

Sustainable Population Australia Inc (SPA) warmly congratulates the Foreign

Minister, Stephen Smith, on his decision today to lift Australia’s version of the ‘global

gag rule’.

The gag rule was a guideline that prevented Australian overseas aid money going to

any non-government organisation that undertook or even advised on abortion,

including in countries where abortion was legal. It was a bargaining chip introduced

by the Howard Government as a means to persuade Senator Brian Harradine to pass

the partial sale of Telstra in 1996.

National President of SPA, Dr John Coulter, says that, while the decision is long

overdue, it is nevertheless very welcome. US President Barack Obama lifted the US

version three days after taking office.

“The side effect of these guidelines was to cause a dramatic decline in family

planning funds”, says Dr Coulter. “In the intervening years countless women have

died from unsafe abortions and in childbirth.

Meanwhile populations exploded in those countries that are recipients of Australian

aid money, not least Papua New Guinea, East Timor and the Solomons. This has put

an enormous strain on infrastructure. It has led to very large numbers of ill-educated

and unemployed youth, a cause of much of the unrest in this ‘arc of instability’ to our


Dr Coulter is appalled that the Prime Minister has not supported the lifting of these

guidelines and is prepared to impose on women in other countries neo-colonial

conditions which were not applicable to Australian women.

“The guidelines were utterly hypocritical, denying the same services that are available

to Australian women, even in those countries where abortion was legal”, he says. “We

are profoundly grateful that the Foreign Minister was able to see through this

hypocrisy and make the right decision.”

Further information: John Coulter 08 8388 2153



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