In a press conference on Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the expansion of the Global Gag Rule, also known as the “Mexico City Policy,” which prohibit U.S. funding for foreign aid groups and health organizations that provide or refer patients to abortion, even if they do so with separate non-U.S. resources.
Although President Trump has already expanded the Global Gag Rule significantly beyond any past president, the administration has new modifications to further the dangerous policy. Now the funding ban will not just apply to international non-governmental organizations (NGO) that provide or refer patients to abortion; it will also ban U.S. global health funding to any NGO that uses non-U.S. assistance to support any foreign partners who separately engage in abortion-related work with their own funding. That includes private donors like the Gates Foundation and bilateral funding partners like the Organization of American States (OAS).
“This administration’s obsession with attacking women’s reproductive health is egregious and dangerous,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). “Further expanding the Global Gag Rule puts international organizations in an impossible position: provide women the full scope of reproductive health care services or deny critical funding that saves lives. That is unconscionable.”
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. International governments are also scrambling to soften the devastating impact of lost U.S. funding, but even they will not be able to scrape together near sufficient funds.
Global health advocates have severely criticized the expansion as clinics in developing countries lose critical funding and are forced to scale back an essential variety of health services. Staff members have been laid off and family planning programs have been eliminated. An Ethiopian NGO ended its program providing vasectomies and tubal litigation to rural populations after the implementation of the Global Gag Rule. Similarly, in Nepal, two clinics have stopped services from four districts and laid off staff. A 2011 Stanford University study also noted that the rule caused abortion rates in African countries to double, with women in countries most affected by the ban to be 2.6 times more likely to have an abortion than countries not affected by the measure.
In February, members of Congress, led by Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), introduced the Global Health Empowerment and Rights (HER) Act. The bill reverses and permanently bans the anti-abortion Global Gag Rule reinstated under the Trump administration, and protects access to healthcare, especially for women and girls, across the globe.
In 2017, Trump took the measure a dangerous step further than any other president, expanding the Global Gag Rule to include all global health assistance programs across all departments and agencies. This meant that the Global Gag Rule would 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 Gag Rule was first implemented in 1984 by President Ronald Reagan as a means of banning any overseas non-governmental organization (NGO) that receives U.S. family planning and reproductive health funding from providing or distributing information about abortions, even if they were to use non-U.S. government funds in doing so. 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.
Media Resources: Feminist Newswire 2/8/19; Feminist Newswire 2/22/17; Feminist Newswire 1/24/19; Politico 3/26/19; CNN 3/26/19