Since Donald Trump reinstated and expanded the Global Gag Rule his first week in the White House, public health non-governmental organizations (NGO), international governments, and even USAID have been scrambling to pick up the pieces and figure out exactly how far reaching this executive order goes.
The original Global Gag Rule bans any overseas NGO that receives US family planning and reproductive health funding from providing or distributing information about abortions, even using funding from non-US government sources, forcing NGOs to choose between accepting vital US funding or offering information, referrals or services for abortion. Trump expanded it to include global health programs across all agencies, meaning that Global Gag now not only applies to family planning organizations, but also NGOs that work to combat public health epidemics such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, Zika, and much more.
The Global Gag Rule is already devastating initiatives aiming to bring healthcare and empowerment to women. The Huffington Post recently chronicled the reality of the Marie Stopes International (MSI) Eastleigh clinic in Nairobi, Kenya, a country where 75 percent of abortions are done unsafely, making it a leading cause of maternal death.
MSI knows that when women and girls need to terminate a pregnancy, they will do so no matter what, and MSI is refusing to deny them safe abortions and contribute to the tens of thousands of deaths caused by botched abortions globally each year. This means they are about to lose a $3 million deal with USAID meant to expand their contraceptive access program to 75,000 more women in rural Kenya. Currently there are 225 million women of reproductive age around the globe who want the ability to avoid pregnancy but are not accessing modern contraception.
The expanded Global Gag Rule effects approximately $9 billion in aid a year, and major philanthropists like Bill and Melinda Gates have said that there is no amount of increased funding that foundations like theirs could give to bridge the gap left by the expanded Global Gag. Bill Gates made clear, “The US is the No 1 donor in the work that we do. Government aid can’t be replaced by philanthropy. When government leaves an area like that, it can’t be offset, there isn’t a real alternative. This expansion of this policy, depending on how it’s implemented, could create a void that even a foundation like ours can’t fill.”
International governments are scrambling to soften the devastating impact of lost US funding, but even they will not be able to scrape together near sufficient funds. So far $32 million has been raised among the Belgian, Dutch and Danish governments, and Norway has pledged an additional $10 million to abortion funds. Canada, Luxemborg, Sweden, Finland, Estonia and Cape Verde have pledged their support but have not yet said how much they will contribute.
Shortly after Trump’s executive order, Congresswoman Nita M. Lowey (D-NY) and Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) introduced legislation in the House and Senate respectively to permanently repeal the Global Gag Rule. The Global Health, Empowerment and Rights (HER) Act would allow organizations to continue to receive US funding while paying for anything abortion related out of their own pockets.
The Feminist Majority Foundation, in partnership with over a dozen other organizations, is holding a protest on March 8 in Washington DC to raise awareness about the Global Gag Rule and advocate for its repeal.
Media Resources: Feminist Majority Foundation 1/24/16; The Hill 1/30/17; Huffington Post 2/9/17, 2/21/17; The Guardian 2/14/17; Devex 2/21/17; New York Magazine 1/24/17.