Today, the Unites States President Donald Trump expanded its anti-abortion policies, barring U.S.-funded organizations from supporting other groups that support abortion and forbidding the use of U.S. tax dollars to lobby for or against abortion.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday the United States will expand that policy known by critics as the “global gag rule” by cracking down on NGOs that fund other groups that support abortion.
The global gag rule prohibits foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) who receive U.S. global health assistance from providing legal abortion services or referrals, while also barring advocacy for abortion law reform, even if it’s done with the NGO’s own, non-U.S. funds. The policy allows for exemptions in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment.
President Ronald Reagan first enacted the global gag rule, also known as the Mexico City Policy, in 1984. Every president since Reagan has decided whether to enact or revoke the policy, making NGO funding vulnerable to political changes happening in the United States.
When enacted, the global gag rule forces organizations to make the impossible choice of whether they will stay true to their mission to provide comprehensive sexual and reproductive healthcare, education, and advocacy, though without the significant source of funding the United States provides.
Impact of Global Gag Rule on Women’s Health and Rights
Under the global gag rule, foreign NGOs are forced to choose between one of two options:
1. Accept U.S. family planning funds and be prohibited from providing abortion counseling, referrals, or even advocacy efforts and from providing abortions outside of the three exceptions.
In 2017, Trump reinstated a policy known as the Mexico City Policy requiring foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that receive U.S. family planning funds to certify they do not provide abortions or give abortion advice.
“We will refuse to provide assistance to foreign NGOs that give financial support to other foreign groups in the global abortion industry,” Pompeo told reporters today.
He affirmed that the United States will also enforce the federal law forbidding the use of U.S. funding, including foreign assistance, to lobby for or against abortion.
The Mexico City policy leads to increases in abortion rates because of cuts to contraception use and closures of health clinics, according to studies.
The rule also potentially raises the risk of maternal deaths and endangers children’s health worldwide, researchers have said.
Pompeo said the United States will cut funding to the Organization of American States as a result of the expanded rule.
“The institutions of OAS should be focused on addressing crises in Cuba, Nicaragua and in Venezuela, not advancing the pro-abortion cause,” he said.
Anti-abortion groups applauded the announcement. “Taxpayer dollars should not fund abortion here or abroad, and respecting the inherent dignity of the unborn person goes hand in glove with our country’s foreign assistance and humanitarian work,” March for Life’s president, Jeanne Mancini, said in a statement.
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi criticized the decision, saying on Twitter: “There is no end to the depths of the Trump Administration’s cruelty. Millions of women … will be arbitrarily left without care due to this shameful decision.”
A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced legislation in February to permanently repeal the policy.
Heather Boonstra, public policy director for the Guttmacher Institute, which researches and promotes family planning, called expansion of the Mexico City policy part of a “crusade” against reproductive health.
Who does the global gag rule impact?
Generally, women will suffer from disruptions in reproductive health services, more unintended pregnancies, higher rates of maternal mortality, and an increase in unsafe abortions. Multiple studies have shown that the global gag rule has not decreased rates of abortions overall—but it has increased the number of unsafe abortions.
Global HIV prevention efforts are heavily supported by the U.S. government and impacted by President Trump’s expanded global gag rule.
Even when the policy was limited to family planning funding, it led to reduced availability of HIV treatment and prevention programming. The United States provides nearly 50 percent of the world’s HIV and AIDS funding, which means Trump’s policy will have an incredibly damaging impact on the quality and availability of HIV services on a global scale and in many countries will undo years of work to integrate sexual and reproductive health services with HIV services.
Marginalized groups such as LGBTI communities or sex workers will lose access to critical health services, including clinic and outreach programs. When organizations reject U.S. funds, they often have to reduce the scale of their programs—years of work to earn the trust of marginalized communities are also lost when clinics close. Often, there are no other existing programs to replace the services.
NGOs who are already suffering from significant funding shortages due to their decision to continue to provide comprehensive sexual and reproductive healthcare will struggle even more to help those in need.
Movements will lose momentum due to the chilling effect the global gag rule has on advocacy. The policy discourages collaboration between groups that are gagged and groups that are not, and it prevents gagged groups from participating in movements to reform restrictive abortion laws or address other crosscutting human rights concerns—such as LGBTI and sex worker rights, gender-based violence prevention, and HIV criminalization.
Does the global gag rule create more unsafe abortions?
Yes. Past iterations of the global gag rule have shown that the policy does not reduce the number of abortions, and it has led to an increase in unsafe abortions and negative impacts on maternal, newborn, and child health.
Is access to a safe, legal abortion a human right?
Yes. People have a human right to be free from gender-based discrimination. Denying access to safe abortions is gender discrimination because it denies equal access to health care and good health. People seeking reproductive care also have a right to autonomy and self-determination, which means they have a right to decide what to do with their own bodies.
In the past few years, several UN agencies and experts have gone on the record about the right to a safe, legal abortion.
Many UN agencies have called on state governments to remove barriers to abortion services. In 2017, the UN Human Rights Council unanimously adopted a resolution condemning abuse and discrimination of women, which included language about access to safe abortions when permitted by law.