The Trump administration's regressive move to reinstate the so-called Global Gag Rule is being met with outrage from women's health advocates around the world, who say the decision is short-sighted, dangerous, and discriminatory.
The rule, officially known as the Mexico City Policy, prohibits international organizations from receiving U.S. family planning funding if they mention or provide information about abortion, or even refer for abortion services. Since its inception under former President Ronald Reagan, it has been alternately enforced and rescinded by Republican and Democratic presidents over several administrations.
On Monday, Trump put it back in place after former President Barack Obama reversed it in 2009.
"Today President Donald Trump made clear that women will be the first casualty of his administration," said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. "Trump's Global Gag Rule will only lead to increases in unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortions, maternal and newborn deaths. This harmful policy undermines American democratic values of free-speech and imposes an anti-woman agenda."
Indeed, many pointed to a 2015 analysis from the Guttmacher Institute, which found that "[w]hen enforced, it has led to the closing of some of the developing world's most effective family planning programs."
Furthermore, according to the institute, which works to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights in the U.S. and abroad through research, the rule actually works against its ostensible goal—to reduce abortions worldwide:
Several organizations have documented the devastating impact of the global gag rule. When the policy has been in effect, health providers have been forced to fire staff, reduce their services, or even close their clinics altogether. Thousands of women lost access to family planning and reproductive health services from trusted local providers—sometimes the only provider of these services in their community—putting them at risk of unintended pregnancy and unsafe abortion.
After President George W. Bush reimposed the gag rule in 2001, a consortium of NGOs led by Population Action International organized a study to assess the policy's effects. Between 2002 and 2006, the research teams made site visits to the Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nepal, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. They found that in Kenya, for example, the gag rule led to the termination of critical activities run by the Family Planning Association of Kenya and Marie Stopes International (MSI) Kenya—the leading providers of health care to people living in poor and rural communities in the country. In addition, enforcement of the policy drastically curtailed community-based outreach activities and the flow and availability of contraceptive supplies. Government clinics, exempt from the gag rule, were never able to pick up the slack nor regain the trust of women turned away by the NGOs.
"Undermining access to family planning services ultimately hurts women by denying them the tools they need to prevent unwanted pregnancies—and, therefore, to avert abortions," wrote Sneha Barot and Susan Cohen for Guttmacher. "Placing legal barriers between women's reproductive health needs and desires and their access to safe abortion services only leads to unsafe abortion. History has shown that the gag rule has done and can do nothing to alter this reality, except to exacerbate it."
Saying Trump's action "ignores decades of research, instead favoring ideological politics over women and families," Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) vowed to introduce legislation Tuesday to "repeal the Global Gag Rule for good."
Other lawmakers joined her in denouncing the move online:
Reinstatement of the Global Gag Rule will deny lifesaving health care to countless women & girls around the world. This is shameful!
— Rep. Barbara Lee (@RepBarbaraLee) January 23, 2017
The Global Gag Rule, which Donald Trump reinstated today, will put millions of the most vulnerable women around the world at risk.
— Rep. Keith Ellison (@keithellison) January 24, 2017
.@POTUS Trump is reinstating the “global gag rule” to stop funding for overseas health centers that may provide abortion. This is insanity.
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) January 23, 2017
— Melissa Bird (@birdgirl1001) January 23, 2017
— Mark J.K. Penzkover (@MarkPenzkover) January 24, 2017
Pence is behind the reinstatement of the Global Gag Rule. & you bet all he had to do to sell it to Trump was “it will be a positive story."
— Dianna E Anderson (@diannaeanderson) January 23, 2017
The global gag rule is 100% Pence. https://t.co/xj6HEZnuAR
— Rebekah (@AtHomePundit) January 23, 2017
"This action—taken two days after millions of people across the world marched to affirm women's rights as human rights and the right to bodily autonomy, and one day after the anniversary of Roe v. Wade—shows how out of step this administration is with the needs of women both at home and abroad," said Teresa C. Younger, president and CEO of the Ms. Foundation for Women.
"Rather than engage in a conversation about why it is critical to expand access to comprehensive health care globally, including abortion, this administration is already using its executive power to export dangerous anti-choice policies, penalize frontline reproductive health service providers, and punish low-income women trying to access essential health care," she continued. "But make no mistake: we will not go back. This first action by the Trump-Pence administration is a harbinger for the fight for reproductive justice that we will all need to engage in full force."
Watch Democracy Now!'s segment on the Global Gag Rule below: