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Trump's Proposal to Further Expand Global Gag Rule Amid Pandemic Would Cut Off Healthcare Access to Millions, Rights Groups Warn

"Study after study—including from the State Department—has demonstrated that this neocolonialist policy has inflicted a crushing blow to healthcare access for people 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)

Reproductive rights advocates on Tuesday warned that a newly proposed expansion of the anti-choice global gag rule will put millions at even greater risk of being unable to access healthcare including abortion care. 

"The Global Gag Rule has put millions at risk by forcing organizations to choose between desperately needed funding and providing their patients with comprehensive healthcare services." 
—Brian Dixon, Population Connection Action Fund

The U.S. State Department on Monday entered into the Federal Register a proposed policy change which would refuse global health aid through federal government contracts to foreign healthcare groups that provide abortion care or counseling. 

Previously, the global gag rule—also known as the Mexico City Policy—applied to healthcare organizations which receive U.S. funding through grants and cooperative agreements. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 40% of global health aid reaches foreign organizations through government contracts.

"During a pandemic, this administration is moving forward with unprecedented expansion of a harmful policy," tweeted NARAL Pro-Choice America.

As Common Dreams reported last month, the coronavirus pandemic was already expected to cut off abortion access to 1.5 million women worldwide, according to Marie Stopes International.

The expanded global gag rule will keep millions more from obtaining care and information about abortions in their countries, the Population Connection Action Fund (PCAF) said in a statement on Tuesday.  

"Trump's proposal to further expand this policy is a continuation of his administration's assault on reproductive rights around the world, further proving its blatant disregard for human life," said Brian Dixon, senior vice president for media and government relations at PCAF. "The Global Gag Rule has put millions at risk by forcing organizations to choose between desperately needed funding and providing their patients with comprehensive healthcare services."

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"Right now, 218 million women across the developing world who want to prevent pregnancy still have an unmet need for modern contraception, and up to 31,000 women and girls die every year from complications from unsafe abortion," Dixon added.

As other Republican presidents have done since the Reagan administration, President Donald Trump made reinstating the global gag rule one of his first actions after taking office in 2017. He expanded the rule by barring organizations from receiving aid even for public health efforts related to HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, and nutrition if they provided abortion care or counseling.

"By choosing to expand [the rule] even further, they are intentionally depriving people of life-saving and essential reproductive healthcare all over the globe in service of a manipulative ideological agenda," Zara Ahmed, associate director for federal issues for the pro-choice research group Guttmacher Institute, told The Hill. 

Instead of being reinstated repeatedly by Republican administrations, Oxfam America tweeted, "the global gag rule has to go. Once and for all."

The State Department revealed in a report last month that the global gag rule has resulted in a "gap or disruption in delivery" of health services at some international clinics and that in developing countries including Togo and Liberia, people in rural areas were left with no family planning services after mobile health clinics lost their funding. 

"Study after study—including from the State Department—has demonstrated that this neocolonialist policy has inflicted a crushing blow to healthcare access for people around the world, especially those who already face systemic barriers to care, including women and girls, young people, and LGBTQ+ people," said Monica Kerrigan, executive director of Planned Parenthood Global. "And as Covid-19 continues to claim lives and devastate communities, the administration is knowingly moving to expand this policy. There is no excuse for this brazen disregard for people's health and rights."

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