From the OED Word of the Day
gag rule, n. DRAFT ENTRY Dec. 2003
colloq. (orig. and chiefly U.S.). Brit. /gag rul/, U.S. /gæg rul/ Also with capital initials. [< GAG n.1 + RULE n.]
1. U.S. Polit. a. A ruling first adopted by the House of Representatives in May 1836, renewed in subsequent years, and made part of the standing orders of the House from 1840-4, stating that petitions relating to slavery should be laid aside without being read aloud, debated, printed or referred to committee. Now hist.
1840 J. Q. ADAMS Jrnl. 11 Feb. in Mem. (1876) X. 216, I enquired..if the slavery resolutions of Rhett, and Anderson, of Kentucky were within the recent gag-rule. 1845 Amer. Whig Rev. Mar. 227/2 A very different spirit now required conciliating, and the famous 'Gag Rule' was the sacrifice. 1910 Encycl. Brit. I. 179/2 These petitions were generally sent to [John Quincy] Adams for presentation. They aroused the anger of the pro-slavery members of congress, who, in 1836, brought about the passage of the first 'Gag Rule', the Pinckney Resolution, presented by Henry L. Pinckney, of South Carolina. 1991 N.Y. Rev. Bks. 10 Oct. 36/2 The Gag Rule controversy, in Congress between 1835 and 1845,..also showed the division between the Upper South and the Lower South.
b. Any procedural rule that restricts or curtails legislative debate.
1850 Rep. Deb. & Proc. Convent. for Revision Constit. State of Indiana 694/2 When the half-hour rule was adopted, it caused a great deal of kicking and flouncing, and it was denounced as a gag rule. 1935 Atlantic Monthly Nov. 618/2 A governmental system which complacently tolerates a long chain of abuses, including pork-barrel appropriations, patronage appointments, filibusters, gag rules..and innumerable other abominations of the lawmaking process. 1998 A. CHAMPAGNE in R. H. Davidson et al. Masters of House vi. 166 Because there had been complaints that the recent Glass-Stegall bill had been subject to a gag rule, Garner promised unlimited discussion of the sales tax.
2. a. A regulation or directive that prohibits public discussion of a particular matter; cf. *gag order s.v. GAG n.1 Also (occas.) as a mass noun: authority exercised by means of censorship.
1886 N.Y. Times 26 Nov. 4/7 No gag rule of silence and servility imposed by a secret junta has ever been more despotic and humiliating than these rules. 1895 Amer. Jrnl. Sociol. 1 212 Certain newspapers..have labored to create the impression that the relations of Professor Bemis to the University of Chicago are of public interest, because he is the victim of gag-rule in that institution. 1939 J. BARZUN Of Human Freedom ii. 20 A socialist leader arrested in New Jersey, books and plays banned in Boston, the Evolution trial in Dayton, and the application of gag rule or gun rule anywhere, are signs of a fascist spirit inherent in man. 1951 Jrnl. Higher Educ. 22 498/2 Three speakers who had been cleared by the President's Office have declined to speak on the campus because of the 'gag-rule'. 1973 Black Panther 4 Aug. 6/1 Judge Beau Arnow, presiding judge in the Gainesville 8 trial, has clamped a strict gag rule on the defendents and anyone else who might think of exposing this government frame-up. 2002 Village Voice (N.Y.) 30 July 175/1 During the brief interlude when he lifted his gag rule forbidding owner discussion of labor matters.., we got a fascinating glimpse into the intellects that make up the management side of the bargaining table.
b. spec. U.S. A regulation preventing the staff of government-funded family-planning clinics from offering patients information about abortion. Also (freq. in global gag rule): a U.S. government policy preventing the provision of U.S. aid to foreign family-planning organizations unless they undertake not to promote or perform abortion.
Both restrictions, first implemented in 1984 and rescinded in 1993, were reinstated by President George W. Bush in 2001.
1985 Chicago Tribune 1 Nov. (Tempo section) 1/3 Any clinic that took federal money promising that its doctors would never utter the word 'abortion' could lose that money in a malpractice suit. Such a 'gag' rule is also unconstitutional. 1995 Mother Jones Apr. 60/1 One goal of the pro-life forces is to reinstitute the 'gag rule' that barred federally funded health clinics from counseling women regarding abortion. 2001 Washington Times (Electronic ed.) 17 May, Opponents of the ban denounced it as a 'global gag rule' that would prevent legitimate family-planning organizations from even counseling women in some of the world's poorest countries on their medical options.