One of President Trump’s first acts in the White House was to reinstate the Mexico City Policy, or “the global gag rule”. The policy is reinstated and revoked every time the White House changes from Democrat to Republican and back. That’s because the subject of the policy, abortion, is a highly politicised topic in America.
The policy means that NGOs that receive US foreign aid funding are not allowed to provide or promote abortions. It was first instated by Reagan in 1984 and it essentially exports the US debate on abortion. Sadly, that has dramatic negative effects on the health of women the world over. NGOs that provide family planning services now have a choice to make. Either they need to drop abortions from the suite of family planning options that they discuss, or they lose all US foreign aid funding. It’s important to note two things:
First, the funding doesn’t have to be money that goes directly into family planning programmes. Any money that goes to a NGO that have a family planning project that uses the “A” word is under threat. A clinic that runs a variety of public health programmes can lose funding for any of its US-funded programmes even if a different funder covers the costs of its family planning programme.
Second, these family planning programmes do not have to directly offer abortion services. The Helms Amendment already prohibits US foreign aid from being spent on abortion services, and this comes with its own issues. The global gag rule is much further reaching. It stops family planning clinics from advocating for the legalisation of abortion and even prevents them from referring patients to other clinics where they can access abortion services.
It is a death sentence for many vulnerable women. If NGOs have to close their family planning clinics due to lack of funds, it will result in more unwanted pregnancies. Based on data collected when George W. Bush reinstated the policy at the start of his presidency, it will actually result in an increase in abortions worldwide as people lose access to contraception and other family planning services. Many of those abortions will be unsafe and Marie Stopes International have calculated that the reinstatement of the policy will result in 21,700 maternal deaths between now and 2020.
The good news is that, as shown by the Women’s Marches that took place all over the world last Saturday, women rarely go down without a fight. Already, the Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, Lilianne Ploumen has announced that she will establish an international fund to finance family planning projects in developing countries. Hopefully it is not too late to prevent the damaging consequences of Trump’s action and to save lives.