Trump expands Global Gag Rule, affecting nearly $9 billion in international aid

So much for National Women’s Health Week.

President Donald Trump in the Oval Office. CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci
President Donald Trump in the Oval Office. CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci

On May 14th, President Donald Trump issued a statement in honor of National Women’s Health Week, pledging to “recognize the importance of providing women access to the best, evidence-based health information and care.”

Then, on May 15th, he announced a vast expansion of the Mexico City Policy, also known as the Global Gag Rule, which restricts women’s access to comprehensive health care around the globe and has previously been found to increase rates of unwanted pregnancy and unsafe abortion.

The Global Gag Rule is a Reagan-era policy that prohibits any U.S. funding for international family planning assistance from going to organizations that provides abortions, or even mention abortion as an option to their patients. It’s illegal for any U.S. aid money to go toward abortion care itself; what the global gag rule does is prevent these organizations from using even separate funding on abortion care or referrals, even if abortion is legal in their country.

Before, the rule applied to about $600 million in family planning money. As of Monday, however, President Trump expanded the rule to cover global health funding coming from the State Department, USAID, and the Department of Defense as well — affecting nearly $9 billion in funding aimed at combating HIV/AIDS, Zika, Malaria, and other health issues around the world.

Under the expanded rule, clinics who combat these health issues will lose their funding if they so much as mention abortion as an option to their patients.

Despite Trump’s claim that the policy would “protect life,” research has shown that the policy actually endangers the lives of women and children around the world because it interrupts funding flows, prevents women from receiving information about safe medical options, and restricts their access to contraceptives.

Every year, around 42 million women choose abortion around the world, and an estimated 68,000 women die as a result of unsafe abortions. And according to a study by the Stanford University School of Medicine, the last time the global gag rule was in place, under Bush, abortion rates actually increased 40 percent in sub-Saharan Africa.

In heavily affected countries, women’s odds of having an unsafe abortion were two times greater while the rule was in effect.

“This policy is sure to tragically increase the number of unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortions and women dying from pregnancy-related complications around the world. It will also increase infant and child deaths globally,” Latanya Mapp Frett, executive director of Planned Parenthood Global said in a statement. “We know this because we saw it under previous versions of the policy — and this rule goes even further.”

Reps. Nita Lowey (D-NY), Eliot Engel (D-NY), Louise Slaughter (D-NY), and Barbara Lee (D-CA) released a statement in response to the new Trump policy, calling it a “cruel and unprecedented attack on the world’s most vulnerable women.”

In his first few months in office, Trump has repeatedly pushed extremely regressive policies on women’s health.

His health care law — as passed in the House — would increase the price of abortion care and, in many cases, prevent it from being covered. Provisions of the bill rolling back coverage requirements would likely cause the cost of maternal and neonatal care to increase, and the bill defunds Planned Parenthood — which in practice means preventing low-income women on Medicaid from going to the clinic for STD testing, cancer screenings, and contraceptive care.

The same day that that bill passed, Trump signed an executive order on religious freedom designed to roll back insurance coverage for contraceptives more broadly.

And in April, Trump yanked $76 million in funding from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which provides reproductive health care and works to end child marriage and female genital mutilation.

In 2016, the organization used the U.S. funding (which is about 7 percent of its budget) to provide contraceptive access to 800,000 people around the world, and prevented an estimated 100,000 unsafe abortions and 10,000 maternal deaths, according to the International Women’s Health Coalition.

At the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan, the UNFPA runs the only maternity ward for pregnant Syrian refugees, and has delivered more than 7,000 babies without a single maternal death. U.S. funding accounted for half of the clinic’s budget, and also supported a UNFPA survivor’s center in Duhok, Iraq, that supports women who have been imprisoned, raped, and abused by members of ISIS.