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Two Years In, Trump's Global Gag Rule Responsible for 'Immeasurable Suffering and Death' Around World

"This policy, driven by ideology instead of evidence, is aligned with broader anti-human rights agendas currently unfolding around the world."

Health clinics in developing countries were put at risk for losing funding in 2017 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)

Pointing to countless examples from countries around the globe, reproductive rights organizations highlighted how in just two years, President Donald Trump's reinstatement of the anti-choice global gag rule has done serious damage to the health of women and families in some of the neediest communities in the world.

"Those hardest hit by the impact of this policy will be people who already face systemic barriers to accessing care, who are underrepresented in the halls of power in the national and international stage—women, young people, people living with HIV, LGBTQ people, and sex workers to name but a few." —Planned Parenthood Global

The rule, officially known as the Mexico City Policy, cuts off U.S. funding for global health organizations that offer abortion care and counseling. The reestablishment of the policy was one of Trump's first actions as president in January 2017. Echoing their calls when the policy was first reinstated, rights groups are sounding alarms about the vital health services that have been taken away from communities, as they call for an end to the global gag rule.

"The truth is that the effects of the global gag rule will be far reaching and deadly," said Latanya Mapp Frett, executive director of Planned Parenthood Global, in a statement. "We've seen the impact of these policies for women around the world."

"The #GlobalGagRule that Trump signed into policy two years ago is closing clinics around the world, putting real lives at risk," the women's advocacy group UltraViolet tweeted. "We support...all efforts to repeal this disgraceful policy."

The Guardian shared the story of one health clinic in the Rufunsa district of Zambia, where staffers recorded twice as many teen pregnancies in 2018 as they did in 2017. The uptick follows the pulling of funding for HIV testing, contraceptive counseling, and condom distribution, all of which Planned Parenthood of Zambia had provided before November 2017. The group lost half its operating budget—about $3.8 million—due to the global gag rule.

The health clinic is now able to employ just two staff members to administer HIV tests to a population of 3,270 people.

"People will end up dying in the community because we are not following them," Brenda Simakuni, a health counselor in Rufunsa, told the Guardian.

As the Los Angeles Times editorial board wrote Wednesday, the Kenyan NGO Family Health Options has been forced to close 14 of its clinics, severely reducing the HIV testing, cervical cancer screening, and contraceptive counseling that it has offered to more than 76,000 people in impoverished areas.

"People will end up dying in the community because we are not following them." —Brenda Simakuni, health counselor

In a report on the effects of the rule, Planned Parenthood Global compiled data from seven countries affected by the rule, finding that it has already weakened civil society, disrupted healthcare delivery, and helped to further human rights abuses around the world. "The damage," the report noted, "isjust beginning and will deepen in years to come."

"This policy, driven by ideology instead of evidence, is aligned with broader anti-human rights agendas currently unfolding around the world, thereby stalling progress," reads the report. "Importantly, interviewees agree those hardest hit by the impact of this policy will be people who already face systemic barriers to accessing care, who are underrepresented in the halls of power in the national and international stage—women, young people, people living with HIV, LGBTQ people, and sex workers to name but a few."

"Who suffers most is the woman who cannot speak for herself," added one women's health advocate in East Africa. "She doesn't even know about the global gag rule...She doesn't care what is discussed at the national level, but what is provided in her village and at the facility near her."

Planned Parenthood is currently circulating a petition to its supporters asking them to urge Congress to pass the Global Health, Empowerment, and Rights (HER) Act to permanently end the global gag rule. Meanwhile, other groups have pledged their support for the grassroots #Fight4HER campaign.

"Trump's Global Gag Rule is one of the most odious policies ever enacted on foreign assistance funding," read the Population Connection Action Fund's website promoting the initiative. "We demand increased access to international family planning programs to ensure that every woman, girl, and person seeking care can make their own healthcare decisions without exceptions."

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