By Niamh Nolan
While interning at the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE) in the spring of 2018, I was horrified to find out about the existence of the Global Gag Rule (GGR) and the impact it has around the world. The GGR is a presidential memorandum that has been signed by every Republican president and rescinded by every Democratic one since Ronald Reagan in 1984. It’s a speech restriction that bans organizations receiving U.S. global health assistance from providing or referring women for abortions.
This U.S. policy has a detrimental effect on health care provision around the world, because of the significance of U.S. health funding globally. Trump has massively expanded the GGR to include nearly all of U.S. global health assistance, impacting funding for HIV and AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis among others, which has impacted many new aspects of reproductive health like HIV care, availability of contraceptives, and abortion provision.
In the months following my internship, when I was choosing a topic for my senior project, it was obvious that the GGR was going to be it. This was because, after discussing my topic with classmates and teachers, it quickly became clear that nobody knew anything about it.
As a student at School Without Walls in Washington, D.C., each senior completes a year-long project comprised of a 15-page paper, a product and a presentation. The product needs to demonstrate 15 hours of work and reach one’s desired audience, and in my case, that was new and future voters. Many of my peers wrote bills, created lesson plans, and developed websites or held panel discussions with experts on their topics.
I wanted to complete a product that followed the ethos of my school, which “incorporates global and local resources in an experiential and interdisciplinary methodology to teaching and learning.” I am constantly using resources provided by living in the U.S. capital: Smithsonian museums, opportunities at the George Washington University, and much more. I have had the good fortune to travel to India and Morocco with my school to experience new cultures and become better global citizens. As such, exposing the reality of the GGR to a national audience would parallel the experiences I had in my years in high school.
I was fortunate to have made great connections during my internship, notably Bergen Cooper, director of policy research at CHANGE, and later Craig Lasher, director of U.S. government relations at PAI, and Jonathan Rucks, senior director of policy and advocacy at PAI. Combining these experts with my contacts in the media, I decided a documentary would be the best way to reach a national audience. It would be easy to share on social media and YouTube, and the combination of audio and visual would keep viewers engaged. Given that they knew little about the policy, I knew that this would be the perfect medium to share with my peers because I knew that they would be horrified that this was a government policy being carried out in their name.
Knowing that many bigger film projects had been made on an iPhone, I decided to use mine. After a crash course on filming interviews with a local journalist and borrowing an iRig (mic) and tripod, I arranged the interviews.
My interviewees were incredibly generous with their time and expertise, giving me loads of fantastic raw material. Next, I carefully reviewed the interviews and other resources I had gathered and wrote the storyboard. I segmented the interviews by topic: defining the GGR and its history, impacts of the gag, common misconceptions, solving the issue, and ending it by asking the interviewees: “What can we do?”
Finally satisfied with the end product, I posted it on YouTube and shared it on social media to ensure that it would reach my target audience of young voters. I also planned a viewing session for a class of high school juniors and seniors who will be voting for the first time in the 2020 election. I gave them a mini-quiz to test whether or not my video was effective in informing them about the policy. The average grade in the class was a 96.8 percent, an A. This proved that in about 20 hours of my time, I could educate 30 students and the dozens of YouTube viewers about something that they would have not otherwise heard about.
Planning and executing this documentary was a lot easier than I expected, and this is most likely due to the great content from my interviewees. I was especially pleased with their answers about supporting the Global HER Act, which would permanently and legislatively end the GGR, and the importance of voting as it gave viewers a call to action.
It’s remarkable that the government can implement such a hideous policy with so few people knowing about it, but I think it’s somewhat reassuring that a teenager with an iPhone can inform voters and give them the tools to overturn it.
Watch the Global Gag Rule: The "Prolife" Death Warrant documentary here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7Jm9ZDQIW4&app=desktop