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Health Advocates Warn Trump’s Expanded Global Gag Rule Against Abortion Will Kill Many Women

A women’s health clinic in Tanzania. (Photo: advencap/Flickr Creative Commons)

Surrounded entirely by white men, President Trump on Monday signed a memorandum reviving the rule, also known as the Mexico City Policy, effectively subjecting countless women around the world to conservative U.S. anti-abortion policy. First implemented by President Ronald Reagan in 1984, the original rule tied U.S. family planning assistance to a promise not to “perform or actively promote abortion as a method of family planning,” even if such activities are funded by other nations or private donors. Not only does the rule prohibit aid to abortion providers, it also cuts off funding to any organization that recommends or even discusses abortion as a family planning option.

The Global Gag Rule was in effect during the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations before being rescinded under Bill Clinton. George W. Bush reinstated it before Barack Obama once again scrapped the rule. Trump has not only revived the restrictions, he has massively expanded the rule to apply not only to the $607 million in family planning funds affected under its previous iteration but also to “all global health assistance furnished by all departments or agencies.” That means $10.3 billion in funding for programs including those that combat HIV/AIDS, infectious diseases, malaria, tuberculosis and other illnesses, and that promote maternal health, nutrition and more, will no longer be available to any group defying the rule.

The is copious evidence that the Global Gag Rule does not prevent abortions. In fact, a 20-nation 2011 Stanford University study found Sub-Saharan African countries with “high exposure” to the policy saw an increase in induced abortions.

Women’s health advocates warned the expanded rule places the lives of millions of women in danger, and that many could die as a result. “We have never seen something like this before,” Elisha Dunn Georgiou, vice president of programs at the international reproductive rights group PAI, told Vice. “Trump’s global gag rule is a cruel and unusual version of an already grotesque policy and will target the most effective health organizations in 60 low and middle income countries, punishing women in places where they are already struggling.”

“If you estimate the number of women we could have served if we had USAID funding until 2020, who now we can’t, we estimate that we could have saved 14 lives a day,” added Maaike van Min, a director at the global contraception and safe abortion NGO Marie Stopes International (MSI). “Or to put it another way, that’s 14 more maternal deaths a day.”

Lori Adelman, director of global communications at the women’s health organization Planned Parenthood, called the new order “perhaps the most extreme executive order ever issued in the global health space.”

“We know, based on what we have seen over 40 years of global health work, that this will mean thousands of global health organizations will shut down, including ones that deal with Zika, HIV, and maternal health,” said Adelman, according to Vox.

However, anti-abortion groups hailed Trump’s executive action. “Vulnerable women in developing countries will once again be protected from companies like the International Planned Parenthood Federation who have been using our tax dollars to ‘help’ them by eliminating their children,” Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie of the Catholic Association said, according to Hot Air.

In response to Trump’s move, the government of the Netherlands announced it wants to help establish an international fund to help women access family planning and safe abortion services. Lilianne Ploumen, the Dutch minister for foreign trade and development cooperation, said Trump’s order will lead to “dangerous backroom procedures and higher maternal mortality.” Ploumen said the expanded rule “has far-reaching consequences above all for the women it affects, who should be able to decide for themselves if they want a child, but also for their husbands and children and for society as a whole.”

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