In his first week in office, President Trump has stripped women of their fundamental human rights and threatened their health by implementing a massively expanded version of the Global Gag Rule. This hugely destructive policy restricts any organization receiving US global health funds from using their own funding to provide legal abortion services, information, or referrals, or doing advocacy to expand abortion access.
From the psychological impacts of not being able to obtain necessary medical care to the deaths that occur when women are forced to obtain abortions from back alley quacks, anti-abortion laws and policies do nothing but harm women.
By attacking women’s rights and autonomy, Trump has gone after the poorest, most vulnerable, and marginalized women and girls in the world. There are 225 million women in the Global South who want to avoid pregnancy but are not using modern contraception. The burden of unsafe abortion also falls overwhelmingly on women in the Global South. The Global Gag Rule will cause cuts in services and increases in fees for low-income communities, people of color, ethnic minorities, and other vulnerable groups in the Global South, as well as the closure of clinics that are often the only providers in remote and economically disadvantaged communities.
Trump’s Global Gag Rule applies even if organizations are applying their own, non-US funds to abortion-related work. The rule is a blunt instrument that forces health care providers, many of whom rely on US funding to keep their doors open, to choose between providing medically necessary, comprehensive, and quality care to their patients and receiving US funding to provide any health care at all. Providers who continue to receive US funding are forced to withhold information about a critical health service, violating the trusted relationship between a woman and her health care provider.
The Global Gag rule also applies worldwide, regardless of the legality of abortion in recipient countries. President Trump is imposing the most regressive US ideologies on abortion on other countries—even on Global South countries that have liberalized their abortion laws. He is undermining their ability to put the health and human rights of their citizens first.
This is not the first time that the Global Gag Rule has been put in place; it was first introduced by President Ronald Reagan more than 30 years ago to cut off family planning funding to foreign-based NGOs that even spoke about abortion. Despite its purported goal of curbing abortion rates, the rule resulted in an increase in abortions in sub-Saharan African countries during the George W. Bush Administration. The rule also had far-reaching negative effects, such as hampering HIV prevention efforts and causing an increase in unwanted pregnancies around the world.
By expanding the Global Gag Rule to cover all US global health funding, President Trump has made a disastrous policy exponentially worse. Trump’s gag rule could potentially cover up to $10 billion in global health assistance annually and impact some of the most effective health organizations in the 60 low and middle income countries that currently receive US health funds. The new policy will force organizations that partner with the US government to provide critical health services—in areas ranging from nutrition to maternal health to HIV prevention and treatment—to choose between accepting US funding and providing a full spectrum of care. The expansion of the policy will heighten its chilling effect, further stigmatizing abortion services and erecting additional barriers between women and health care.
President Trump chose to make a bad policy of the past an even worse reality for our futures. Trump’s Global Gag Rule will reverse decades of progress on reproductive, maternal and child health, leading to an increase in unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortions, and maternal and newborn deaths worldwide. On Day Three of his presidency, Trump dealt a catastrophic blow to international development.