In one of his first acts as President, Donald Trump signed an executive order Monday to reinstate and expand the Global Gag Rule, which restricts women’s abortion access worldwide. Since the introduction of the Global Gag Rule in 1984, it has been rescinded by every incoming Democratic President and reinstated by every incoming Republican President.

The Global Gag Rule was first implemented in 1984 by President Ronald Reagan as a means of banning any overseas non-governmental organization (NGO) that receives US family planning and reproductive health funding from providing or distributing information about abortions, even using funding from non-U.S. government sources. NGOs must therefore choose between accepting vital funding from the United States or offering information, referrals and services for abortion. The United States is one of the largest contributors to international aid for reproductive health initiatives with a budget of approximately $607.5 million in 2016.

Trump took the measure a step further, expanding the Global Gag Rule to include global health assistance programs across all departments and agencies. This means that the Global Gag Rule will now not only apply to organizations that receive family planning funding, but also, according to the United Nations Dispatch, “NGOs that distribute bed nets for malaria, provide childhood vaccines, support early childhood nutrition and brain development, run HIV programs, fight Ebola or Zika, and much more, must now certify their compliance with the Global Gag Rule or risk losing US funds.”

The global health NGO PAI says that this expansion impacts over $9 billion in funding to a range of health organizations. This administration’s Global Gag Rule will now not only lead to a shortage in contraception in some of the poorest regions of the world, but will also effect the American government’s initiatives to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and Zika.

International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), one of the largest non-governmental organizations to provide reproductive health services in developing nations, released a statement Monday concerning the ramifications of Trump’s reinstatement of the Global Gag Rule.  According to this statement, IPPF “will lose $100 million USD for proven programs that provide comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services for millions of women and youth who otherwise go without these vital services.” It is impossible to yet know how many previously spared international health aid organizations will now suffer due to the Global Gag Rule expansion.

The Global Gag Rule exacerbates problems surrounding child marriage and the education of girls. One in three girls in the developing world will be married before the age of 18. One in nine will be married before the age of 15. Many of these girls will become pregnant while still in adolescence, leading to an increase risk of complications during pregnancy and childbirth. Often pregnancy is not a choice, but an absence of choice.

The Global Gag Rule also hinders the recovery of survivors of war rape who seek access to abortion. The routine use of rape as a tool of war has been documented in conflicts around the world, from South Sudan to Syria to Nigeria, and constitutes a form of torture. According to the Global Justice Center, 40,000 women and girls are raped in conflict each year, but many more have suffered during specific conflicts. At least 50 percent of survivors are under the age of 18, but in some areas, up to 80 percent of those targeted are children. The risk of maternal death for girls aged 15 years and younger is twice that of an adult, and these young victims have higher rates of injury, infection or disease related to pregnancy and childbirth. Therefore, for girls raped in conflict, the ability to access abortion has life or death consequences.

Today the House is expected to vote on a bill that would codify the Helms Amendment, which bans any international organization from using United States’ funds to provide abortion as a method of “family planning,” and has been interpreted to prevent funding even in cases of rape, incest and life endangerment.

Media Resources: Huffington Post 1/23/17; The Hill 1/23/17; Change Center for Health and Gender Equity 1/17; The Cut 1/23/17; Feminist Majority Foundation 7/13/15, 8/12/16, 7/11/16, 1/24/17; International Planned Parenthood Federation 1/23/17

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