WASHINGTON ― In one of his first acts as president, Donald Trump has reinstated a federal ban on U.S. funding for international health organizations that counsel women on family planning options that include abortion.
The Mexico City policy, also known as the global gag rule, was first put in place by President Ronald Reagan in 1984. It prohibits giving U.S. funding to nongovernmental organizations that offer or advise on a wide range of family planning and reproductive health options if they include abortion ― even if U.S. dollars are not specifically used for abortion-related services.
Since then, the gag rule has been something of a political football, rescinded and reinstated as soon as presidents take office. President Bill Clinton did away with the rule, President George W. Bush reinstated it and then President Barack Obama again revoked it in 2009.
Trump’s executive order Monday comes one day after the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court case that guaranteed a woman’s right to have an abortion, and in the week of the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. It’s also two days after millions of people turned out to protest Trump and many of his policies in women’s marches.
The United States spends about $600 million a year on international assistance for family planning and reproductive health programs, making it possible for 27 million women and couples to access contraceptive services and supplies.
None of that money is spent on performing abortions. The Helms Amendment has prevented U.S. tax dollars from funding overseas abortions since 1973. Proponents of the global gag rule believe the policy is nevertheless still necessary, arguing that Helms isn’t strong enough by itself.
But the Guttmacher Institute and other opponents of the gag rule say that such restrictions have devastating effects on international organizations, often forcing them to close their clinics or reduce their services, denying women access to help from safe providers and even hampering HIV prevention efforts.
“In reality, attempts to stop abortion through restrictive laws ― or by withholding family planning aid ― can never eliminate abortion, because those methods do not eliminate women’s need for abortion. ... Where abortion is permitted on broad legal grounds, it is generally much safer than where it is highly restricted,” Guttmacher wrote in a 2015 report.
The policy has severe implications and could be deadly for women and girls in developing countries and conflict zones, who often resort to dangerous methods of ending their pregnancies when they lack access to safe abortion. The World Health Organization estimates that more than 21 million women a year have unsafe abortions in developing countries, accounting for about 13 percent of all maternal deaths.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), the only woman on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Foreign Policy that she is planning a legislative response to the reinstatement of global gag rule.
“I will continue to stand up to President Trump and Republican leadership in Congress who are intent on rolling back women’s access to reproductive healthcare, and will soon be introducing bipartisan legislation aimed to repeal the Global Gag Rule for good,” the senator said. “Women around the world deserve to make important personal health care decisions without politicians in Washington interfering.”
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