The response was swift and strong. Just one day after President Trump reinstated and drastically expanded the Global Gag Rule—a policy that prevents any foreign nongovernmental organization receiving US global health funding from even mentioning abortion—the Dutch Government announced She Decides, an initiative to fill the gap.
Today in Brussels, IWHC is excited to join governments and civil society organizations from around the world to launch She Decides. We will continue to support feminist organizations in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East, shape global policies, and hold the US government accountable. IWHC pledges to continue our work to make sure that every woman and girl—no matter where she lives—can access safe, legal abortion and fully realize her sexual and reproductive rights.
She Decides is incredibly important for mobilizing political leadership and raising funds for comprehensive approaches to sexual and reproductive health and rights, including safe abortion. In just five weeks it has raised more than $190 million and we will advocate to ensure that figure grows. But it alone cannot offset the harmful impacts of the global gag rule. The US government is the leading funder of health services in developing countries, providing about $10 billion annually. None of that funding supports abortions. Instead, US global health funding helps women access contraceptives, give birth with the assistance of trained health care providers, protect themselves from HIV and other infectious diseases, get immunizations for themselves and their children, and access treatment for HIV, zika, cancer, and diabetes, among other essential health services. The Global Gag Rule forces organizations to make a choice that none should ever have to make. They could choose to continue to provide women with comprehensive medical care and information that includes abortion and forgo US funding, which in some cases may compromise their ability to offer any health services at all. Alternatively, they could choose to put women’s health and lives on the line by ending abortion services, referrals, and advocacy. Either way, women will bear the brunt of this policy.
For organizations that will lose US government funding because they refuse to be gagged, the money raised through She Decides will be a lifeline. It will help our partners like the Kisumu Medical and Education Trust in Kenya continue to save women’s lives by training doctors to prevent postpartum hemorrhage and provide safe abortion services. The organization Education as a Vaccine in Nigeria can continue to provide unbiased information to young women about what their options are when they are faced with an unintended pregnancy.
But because of the scale of the funding that many organizations receive from the US government and the disastrous impact losing it would have on their ability to provide other critical health services, many organizations will choose to continue receiving US funds. Those organizations will be forced to forgo funds raised from She Decides or other sources that include support for abortion services, information, and advocacy. They will be forced to provide sub-par care to their patients by cutting off both their access to safe abortions and information about where to get them. They will also be forced to refrain from taking part in public conversations about the impacts of unsafe abortion or participating in legislative processes to expand access to safe abortion. The result will be deadly; barriers like a lack of information or available services and punitive laws have never stopped women from seeking abortions. What they have stopped is women’s access to safe abortions, forcing them to resort instead to back-alley and clandestine providers.
With the Global Gag Rule in place, Marie Stopes International estimates that over just the four years of Trump’s Presidency, the loss of services could cause 21,700 maternal deaths, not to mention 6.5 million unintended pregnancies and 2.2 million abortions, the vast majority of them unsafe. Trump’s global gag rule is nefarious because it is designed to prevent even other governments and organizations from helping and saving the lives of these women.
The Global Gag Rule is not really about how American dollars are used; it is about controlling the lives and reducing the autonomy of women all over the globe. She Decides and the governments, civil society organizations, and other donors that join us in backing it give us tremendous hope. But the only action that can truly stop this disastrous policy is for President Trump to rescind his executive order.