On Monday, May 15, President Trump ushered in Women’s Health Week by releasing a blueprint for how the Administration plans to implement its massively expanded version of the Global Gag Rule—a harmful policy that is directly at odds with US development priorities, undermines health programs and services, and places women’s and girls’ lives at risk around the world. The so-called “Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance” plan ends the uncertainty that has lingered since the announcement of Trump’s Gag Rule in January and makes the full scope of the negative impacts of this policy painfully clear.
The Trump Administration’s version of the Global Gag Rule bans all foreign nongovernmental (NGO) organizations who receive any US health funding from providing abortion services, counselling, or referrals, or advocating for the liberalization of abortion laws, even with their own non-US funds. Under previous Republican administrations, this policy has only applied to US family planning funding. But the Trump Administration has made a bad policy even worse by extending it to all US global health spending—meaning that it will apply to organizations working on maternal and child health, nutrition, HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, and other health issues. US-based organizations receiving funding will be responsible for enforcing the Gag Rule on their foreign NGO partners.
The Human Cost of the Global Gag Rule: A Kenyan Story
The policy does have some limits. It does not apply to funding given to foreign governments or to multilateral organizations, including Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. It does not extend to humanitarian aid, including disaster relief, migration, and refugee-assistance activities. Further, it allows foreign NGOs receiving US health funding to provide abortion services, counseling, and referrals in cases of rape, life endangerment, or incest, and it allows them to provide post-abortion care. These exceptions notwithstanding, this policy will undermine global development and put women’s lives at risk.
The Global Gag Rule runs counter to global efforts to achieve sustainable, people-centered development. Over the past decade, countries of the Global South have made significant progress integrating essential health services and overcoming the barriers that put quality health care out of reach for many. The Global Gag Rule threatens to reverse that progress. It will cut off funding to some of the most effective organizations in the Global South, many of whom are the only organizations providing quality health care services in remote or isolated communities. It will force others to stop offering a comprehensive spectrum of care in order to sustain funding for other critical services. In an era of diminishing aid, it will hinder the cost-effectiveness and impact of US development dollars.
Most devastating, however, is the impact it will have on the lives of women, girls, and their communities. Because of this policy, clinics will close. Health services—reproductive health care, but also HIV prevention and treatment, maternal health care, and other services—will be increasingly scarce. Unintended pregnancies will rise, along with unsafe abortions. Women and girls, particularly the most marginalized, will have less ability to make decisions about their own bodies, health, and lives. Simply put, women will die because of this policy.
With today’s announcement of how the Global Gag Rule will be implemented, the Trump Administration shows, once again, that it is all too willing to put religious ideology and politics over evidence.
Photo: Pierre Holtz for UNICEF