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Health clinics in developing countries were put at risk for losing funding last year when President Donald Trump announced he would reinstate the global gag rule, taking U.S. aid from NGOs and their local partners unless they agreed to stop providing abortion care and counseling. (Photo: World Bank/Flickr/cc)

Reproductive Rights Groups Slam WH Report on Trump's 'Unconscionable' Global Gag Rule

State Department assures that "disruption of services" has been minimal, but women's rights groups decry massive and destructive loss of healthcare services in impoverished countries around the world

Julia Conley

Women's rights groups on Thursday denounced a report issued by the State Department on the impact of the Trump administration's reinstatement of the global gag rule, also known as the Mexico City policy—saying the misleading document ignores the clear negative impacts the policy is having on poor communities and women around the world that have lost access to vital health services.

The global gag rule, first applied to U.S. aid in 1984 by President Ronald Reagan, rescinds funding from non-governmental organizations and international family planning groups unless they agree not to provide abortion care or counseling related to abortion.

After his inauguration, President Donald Trump announced his administration would observe an expanded version of the rule, applying it to all global health assistance programs instead of just those focused on reproductive health—putting about $7 billion of funding for international health aid in question unless organizations agreed to honor the administration's opposition to abortion.

According to the State Department, 733 organizations have agreed to halt abortion care in exchange for funding. Four have refused, including the International Planned Parenthood Federation and Marie Stopes International—two of the world's largest providers of reproductive healthcare in developing countries.

The groups are losing $100 million and $80 million in aid, respectively, and their local partners in impoverished countries have felt the effects.

The two organizations' loss in funding could lead to a combined total of about 7.5 million unwanted pregnancies and 2.5 million unsafe abortions, according to Time.

One of Planned Parenthood's partner clinics, the Mozambican Association for Family Development, is losing 60 percent of its funding because of Trump's decision, according to the Associated Press. Ninety of its facilities, which provide HIV and tuberculosis testing as well as family planning care, have shut down, and the group has lost hundreds of staff members and peer educators.

Marie Stopes International expects to close health services for women in more than three dozen countries including Madagascar, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

"Evidence shows that by blocking funding to the world's largest NGO providers of modern contraception, unintended pregnancies and abortions go up," Marjorie Newman-Williams, vice-president of Marie Stopes International, said in a statement this week. "As a result, women and girls are less likely to complete their education, have a career, or pursue their dreams for the future."

Despite the impact of the global gag rules on these groups—not to mention the untold numbers of clinics that have been forced to halt abortion care in order to continue providing services to impoverished communities—the State Department's report on the policy, called "Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance" (PLGHA), gives a positive portrayal of the global gag rule's effects:

A majority of global health assistance agreements have already received new funding, and therefore are subject to the PLGHA policy. Nearly all prime partners that have had the opportunity to accept the policy have done so; prime partners declined to sign in only four instances out of 733 awards...USAID is working to transition the activities of those organizations that have not agreed to the PLGHA standard provision to other partners, while minimizing disruption of services.

About 500 grants for health organizations have not yet had to make a decision regarding funding and abortion services, but will at the end of the fiscal year. Critics including the International Center for Research on Women say this makes the administration's assessment of the true impact of the global gag rule even less complete.

"It is unconscionable that the administration never conducted an analysis of this disastrous policy prior to implementation," said Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the sponsor of a bill that would repeal the rule, in a statement after the report's release on Wednesday. "The administration's expansion and implementation of the global gag rule will harm healthcare services for men, women, and children around the globe and leave an indelible stain on our legacy of global health leadership."


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