One of the many executive orders signed by President Donald Trump during his first week in office: a global “gag” rule, sometimes called the Mexico City policy, that denies US aid to any non-governmental organization that provides abortion services for women.
The origins of the rule date back to the Reagan era, where the then-president’s administration signed the policy into effect based on the grounds that “the United States does not consider abortion an acceptable element of family planning programs and will no longer contribute to those of which it is a part.” Since then, the rule has been repealed by every Democratic president and reinstated by Republican presidents.
The most jarring announcement? Trump’s rule had an added bonus — whereas previously the policy had cut off funds from only USAID and the State Department, it has now been extended to include aid from any U.S. department or agency. Instead of impacting $600 million in aid, the policy now has the potential to affect $9.5 billion that could have promoted women’s reproductive health all around the globe.
The consensus is clear: Statistics have shown the gag rule has devastating effects for women in developing countries, who often rely on health clinics funded by overseas aid for a range of reproductive health needs. The repercussions of the policy extend far beyond limiting access to abortions. NGOs in developing countries allocate the aid to a wide range of services, including providing contraceptives, HIV/AIDS treatments, STD testing, and Ebola, malaria and Zika prevention. In addition, women who lose access to abortions provided by these clinics will resort to dangerous and life-threatening methods of abortions, when they are given no other choice.
These clinics that receive U.S. aid in other countries have a choice: accept the funds and cut their abortion services, or decline the funds and maintain their right to give women abortions. Clinics in two countries in particular, Ethiopia and Kenya, were hard-hit by the 2001 reinstatement of the global gag rule when they declined the aid in order to keep their abortion services open. In Kenya, the nation’s two largest reproductive health providers were forced close multiple health clinics across the country to make up for their loss in funding, affecting access to not only safe abortions, but also to contraceptive education and community resources for HIV/AIDS. When put into effect, the gag rule acts counterproductively to America’s proclaimed goal of promoting maternal/child health and preventing HIV/AIDS worldwide. In Ethiopia, large clinics had to stop providing free contraceptives to its community members. With the cuts in funding, other birth control measures for women also became severely limited.
Millions of women across the globe lack access to sexual education and contraceptives. When it comes to teenage girls who aren’t provided the knowledge necessary to prevent early pregnancies and are vulnerable to child marriages and unsafe abortions, the work that is done by international health organizations is vital to the advancements of female rights and education in developing countries. Avoiding STIs and unwanted pregnancies allows girls to stay in school longer, opening up a world of opportunity .
The bottom line: Trump’s executive order is a chokehold on the progress being made for women’s health worldwide.