Less than two days after well over 1 million women worldwide marched in protest of President Donald Trump’s policies, the president has reinstated a federal ban that prevents the US government from funding international health organizations that perform or advocate for abortions.
The move is not a complete surprise. Called the “Global Gag Rule,” the policy began under President Ronald Reagan in 1984, was revoked by President Bill Clinton in 1993, and was reinstated by President George W. Bush in 2001.
Most recently, the ban was again revoked by President Barack Obama in 2009.
It states that any Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) that receives US family planning funding can neither advocate for, nor provide abortion services.
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This is a move that could affect up to 27 million women and couples that receive contraceptive services from health organizations that receive US federal funds for family planning, according to the Guttmacher Institute. The US currently earmarks $600 million in funds for international family planning, none of which, The Huffington Post reports, goes specifically toward abortion.
Tacked onto a spate of three executive actions — which also included an order to remove the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and a federal hiring freeze — the move has been criticized by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Center for American Progress, and Human Rights Watch.
Trump's 3rd executive order today is assault on women's health. "Mexico City policy" strips US support from health clinics around the globe— ACLU National (@ACLU) January 23, 2017
The Global Gag Rule infringes upon women’s fundamental right to make informed decisions about their bodies and their health.— American Progress (@amprog) January 23, 2017
HRW joins 130+ orgs opposing global gag rule. It undermines health & gender equity efforts worldwide https://t.co/NSGvIMqBan#WomensMarchpic.twitter.com/JUSXjje5P8— Human Rights Watch (@hrw) January 23, 2017
“Supporters of global health and development, women’s rights, gender equality, and free speech oppose the harmful global gag rule and reject efforts to undermine the health and rights of women around the world,” Planned Parenthood wrote in a statement, which was endorsed by over 130 national civil rights organizations.
This move will disproportionately affect women living in poor countries, where access to family planning and contraceptive care is already severely limited. The United States, according to Planned Parenthood, is the largest international provider of family planning assistance to developing countries. By failing to fund organizations that advocate for abortion, this aid will be in jeopardy for those who need it most.
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Furthermore, results from past experiments with the Global Gag Rule have proven ineffective. A 2011 study by Stanford University found that the policy has actually had the unintended consequence of increasing the amount of abortions in developing countries. The study found that when the Global Gag Rule was in place in Sub-Saharan Africa, “the induced abortion rate increased significantly,” from 10.4 abortions per 10,000 women to 14.5.
The Center for Health and Gender Equality also noted that this policy can be deadly in humanitarian disasters.
“Disqualifying certain foreign NGOs from receiving US funding will also have a negative impact on the speed and effectiveness of humanitarian aid, thereby increasing hardships for women and their families,” they wrote in a statement.
The reinstatement of the Global Gag Act sets a dangerous precedent for the direction of US international aid, and jeopardizes millions of women and men who rely on international NGOs for their family planning services. This action should be seen as a direct attack on women’s rights, and could initiate a global health crisis.