On Monday, the day after the 44th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade ruling, President Trump signed an executive order reinstating what’s often referred to as the “global gag rule” or “Mexico City policy.” He did so under the approving gazes of seven men — a fact that was not lost in the outpouring from online critics, who said it was the perfect illustration of “patriarchy” — and in the tradition of Ronald Reagan, who originated the policy. It bars U.S. foreign aid and federal funding from going to any international nongovernmental organization (NGO) that discusses abortion care or refers patients for abortion care.
It has long been used for political football — every Republican president since Reagan has reinstated the global gag rule, while every Democrat has reversed it. This time, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Trump moved to reinstate the rule to “end the use of taxpayer dollars to fund abortions overseas, along with coercive abortion and sterilization practices” and to prevent tax dollars from “being spent overseas to perform an action that is contrary to the values of this president.”
But in reality, any form of U.S. funding for abortion care is already banned in terms of foreign aid per the Helms Amendment, which prohibits the use of U.S. foreign assistance for performing abortion “as a method of family planning.”
The global gag rule goes further, stopping NGOs that provide health care abroad from even mentioning abortion to their patients — even when it comes to providing information about what the procedure is, or referring patients to a provider who can safely perform it. In response to Trump’s executive order, nearly 140 diverse advocacy organizations issued a joint open statement. “Countries around the world are making significant progress in improving women’s health,” it said, “and the global gag rule undermines that momentum.”
Planned Parenthood Global executive director Latanya Mapp Frett, in a separate statement, explained, “The timing of this policy reinstatement is particularly devastating since we know that global family planning programs are working. U.S. assistance for family planning and reproductive health programs for FY 2016 would ensure contraceptive services and supplies for 27 million women and couples, and help avert six million unintended pregnancies; 11,000 maternal deaths; and 2.3 million abortions, the vast majority of which are unsafe. But by reinstating the global gag rule, President Trump threatens to undercut years of progress by disqualifying many of the most experienced family planning providers from funding. The lives of some of the most vulnerable women and girls will once again be at risk.”
To break it down into eight points of harm …
1. The global gag rule does not provide added family planning dollars, but results In family planning clinic closures.
“A big misconception is that this is needed to prevent U.S. funds from going towards abortion services,” Lori Adelman, spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Global, tells Yahoo Beauty. “The global gag rule needlessly and devastatingly goes further by forcing health care providers to choose between U.S. family planning assistance and the ability to counsel clients on abortion.” She explains that it will prevent women from getting accurate information about their health and their rights, cause clinic closures, and result in more unintended pregnancies and unsafe abortions — not fewer.
Nicole Cheetham, director of the International Youth Health and Rights Division at Advocates for Youth, explains to Yahoo Beauty that while her organization does not receive U.S. foreign assistance funds, its work with partner organizations on the ground in the low- to middle-income countries it serves would be significantly affected. “Health care is already scarce enough in these regions,” she says, “and it’s difficult enough for those living there to access services.’
2. The global gag rule does not decrease abortions — it just increases unsafe ones (and maternal mortality rates).
“Studies done during [the Reagan administration] showed that the global gag rule did not decrease the number of abortions being performed, it just increased the number of unsafe abortions being performed because of the effect it had on organizations trying to help with contraception and family planning,” according to Dr. Caitlin Parks, a fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health who also works with an NGO that provides healthcare services to HIV-affected populations in Kenya.
Parks adds that from her work in Kenya, she has seen firsthand “women who are faced with pregnancies that are risky for them,” and says that without safe abortion access, many will die. “I work with an organization that primarily works with women with HIV and AIDS and other women within the community who are poor,” she says. “They are poorer than anything you can imagine here in the U.S. They don’t have any other access to health care besides our clinics. They are really trying to stay healthy for their families to prevent their children from being orphans — and that includes trying to prevent an unsafe pregnancy.”
3. The global gag rule can limit contraception access — another way it will lead to more (unsafe) abortions.
Maternal mortality is the second leading cause of death for girls and women ages 15 to 19 globally. And indeed, the World Health Organization (WHO) makes it clear that 99 percent of all maternal deaths worldwide occur in developing countries, with the risk of death from childbirth being highest for girls age 15 and younger. Organizations most affected by the global gag rule are often “the last in line” for the patients they serve in terms of health care, Parks says. “These patients don’t have anywhere else to go. And these aren’t primarily organizations that are even performing abortions. Lots of people would agree that we would like to decrease the number of abortions being done. … The global gag rule can increase abortion by limiting the ability of women to access contraception.”
4. The global gag rule doesn’t make foreign economies more secure but more unstable, increasing the need for foreign aid.
When women and girls have the ability to plan their families and delay pregnancy to space out their children, girls are much more likely to stay in school. “In one of the counties where we’re working in Kenya, for example, at the primary school level, teachers are seeing girls coming in pregnant,” Cheetham says. “Even though in Kenya you’re allowed to stay in school once you become pregnant, it’s really hard to do in reality, so girls are dropping out. And when they drop out, they lose their ability to aspire to earn an income and contribute to the global economy.” Then everyone suffers. Parks adds that in many cases, even in the U.S., women are the family breadwinners — and when such women die young because of unsafe abortions or pregnancies, all the people these women support are thrown into poverty. “A lot of local economies are supported by women,” she says, “and when those women are sick or dying, it really impacts the entire community and country.”
5. The global gag rule can increase international hunger.
Parks also points out that in many places where the U.S. provides foreign assistance, the agricultural industries are run by women. “When people growing the food and running the farms are dying, people end up going hungry when those women are not able to produce that food for them,” she says.
6. The global gag rule doesn’t change the number of foreign aid dollars spent.
Cheetham says that reinstating the global gag rule in no way affects the national budget (though she notes that what the U.S. spends on foreign assistance is only a small fraction of this budget), but rather just restricts certain entities from receiving funding already earmarked for aid. “It does nothing for the bottom line,” she says.
7. The global gag rule sends a message about the reproductive rights of women in the U.S.
“Other countries look to the United States, and so it doesn’t set a good example,” Cheetham says about barring funding from groups that so much as mention abortion to their patients and clients. It’s also “incredibly telling” that this was one of Trump’s first moves, she says. Parks adds that there is “tremendous concern” that he is setting a precedent about how his administration views women and girls, “which is not indicative of supporting sexual and reproductive health and rights.”
8. The global gag rule suppresses free speech — at the expense of people’s health and lives.
“It’s telling that one of Trump’s first executive actions combines two of his favorite things: Silencing anyone who disagrees with him and repressing women,” said NARAL Pro-Choice America president Ilyse Hogue in a statement. “Just two days after the historic Women’s March and one day after the anniversary of the historic decision in Roe v. Wade, Donald Trump’s misguided priority is to reinstate the global gag rule, a policy that silences health workers at the expense of their patients. With this action, Donald Trump has turned his anti-women rhetoric into policy, and made it more difficult for women and families all over the world to access vital reproductive care. He really is living up to the lowest of expectations.”