There’s no question that President Trump’s administration will be remembered as one of the most devastating efforts to undermine access to health and subvert human rights in history. Now, with the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, sexual and reproductive health advocates see light at the end of the tunnel and a path forward. IWHC is excited to work with the incoming Biden administration to not only repair the damage caused by the Trump administration, but also to advance US policies that truly support and uphold sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Across the board, the Trump administration has taken aim at everything we, as supports of sexual and reproductive health, rights, and justice, hold dear—from access to services and constructive engagement with global partners to policies that uphold the human dignity of all people. While we have taken pains to document some of the impacts of Trump initiatives—like the expanded Global Gag Rule—it will be years before we have a complete picture of the harm done by this administration.
It’s tempting to celebrate the election result as the end of a hard road, but it’s also a key moment—to use the President-elect’s own words—to build back better. It’s not enough to simply walk back the worst of the Trump-era attacks on sexual and reproductive health and human rights, we need to seize this moment to promote US policy that supports the ability of all people to lead safe and healthy lives, to make decisions about their own bodies and lives, and to live with dignity.
IWHC is proud to support the Blueprint for Sexual and Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice, a transformative, shared agenda to promote these priorities in the United States and around the world. The Blueprint lays out an ambitious but achievable program of action for a new administration, and it details the executive and legislative action needed to make this vision a reality. Because we feel that these issues must be a top priority for the incoming Biden administration, we have also developed a First Priorities document, outlining the immediate actions needed from the president-elect upon taking office.
IWHC stands behind the entire Blueprint agenda, and looks forward to working with our civil society partners to enact true and lasting change. Within our sphere of work and expertise, we strongly urge the incoming Biden administration to consider the following urgent actions:
1. End the Global Gag Rule and support legislation to prevent it from being reinstated.
Over the past four years, President Trump has wielded the Global Gag Rule to cause untold harm to individuals, communities, and health systems throughout the world. By making US global health funding contingent upon ending all abortion-related activities, the gag rule has forced organizations to choose between offering the full range of legal sexual and reproductive health services and accepting critical US funds: no matter which decision they make, people lose access to services. IWHC’s research has found that President Trump’s incarnation of the policy has increased barriers to health care, restricted the availability of health services, led to the breakdown of partnerships and fracturing of civil society, and caused the deaths of young women. All of these impacts have been particularly felt by individuals from already-marginalized groups. In short, the Global Gag Rule has had devastating impacts for women and girls and disrupted entire health systems, and the repercussions of these effects will be felt for years to come.
President-elect Biden can end this policy on his first day in office. By taking executive action to rescind the policy, Biden can remove it as quickly as Trump put it into place. However, IWHC urges him to go further: we cannot risk a future president re-issuing the policy. Our research has shown that organizations feel the policy’s impacts even when it’s not in place, and they’re looking for a strong US statement that the gag rule is permanently ended. To that end, IWHC urges the Biden administration to strongly back passage of the Global HER Act, widely-supported congressional legislation that would prevent a future president from reinstating the Global Gag Rule.
2. Work toward ending other restrictions on abortion in US foreign assistance.
Despite President Trump’s best efforts to establish his administration as the most anti-choice regime in US history, some of the most devastating US policies restricting abortion long predate him taking office. Chief among these is the Helms amendment, a racist relic enshrined in US law by segregationist Senator Jesse Helms. The Helms amendment restricts US foreign assistance funds from being used to pay for abortion services abroad and, like its domestic counterpart the Hyde amendment, has an outsize effect on communities of color and individuals with limited financial resources. The Helms amendment makes it harder for people who need abortions to access the care they need, and its long past time it was removed from US law.
To do so requires an act of Congress, so IWHC strongly urges the Biden administration to throw its full support behind the Abortion Is Healthcare Everywhere Act. This new legislation, introduced in recent months, would repeal the Helms amendment and ensure that US foreign assistance supports comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services worldwide. In doing so, President-elect Biden should also state clearly that even under existing law, US funding could be used to fund abortions in a number of circumstances when it is not used “as a method of family planning,” including cases of rape, life endangerment, and incest. Doing so would allow the incoming president to send a strong signal about his intention to support increased access to abortion services, in the United States and around the world.
3. Re-engage in global, multilateral spaces, and commit to using negotiation to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights.
President Trump’s administration has been characterized by a consistent effort to undermine both international agreements and the spaces for multilateral cooperation themselves. Trump has withdrawn from key agreements like the Paris Agreement, as well as from crucial inter-governmental spaces like the Human Rights Council and—at the height of a global pandemic—begun the process of withdrawing from the World Health Organization. He has cut funding for UNPFA and threatened US contributions to other UN entities, and his deputies have threatened UN agencies and experts. He has attempted to redefine international human rights through the Commission on Unalienable Rights and routinely, though unsuccessfully, sought to build a global coalition of opponents to abortion.
President-elect Biden can set a new tone from day one. By rejoining the Paris Agreement, the World Health Organization, and the Human Rights Council, he can send a message that his administration will prioritize global cooperation and abide by existing commitments and agreements. He can firmly disavow the extremist positions of the Trump team, including the Commission on Unalienable Rights’ report and the Geneva Consensus Declaration. He can appoint a seasoned diplomat who respects international law and the importance of negotiation to be the next US Ambassador to the UN.
Further, IWHC urges President-elect Biden to take office with a strong statement of commitment to promoting and upholding sexual and reproductive health and rights in global spaces. The US is powerful voice that, for the last four years, has been out of line with international consensus. IWHC looks to the incoming Biden administration to show leadership by vocally championing sexual and reproductive health and rights at the UN and in other multilateral spaces —including by seeking to advance commitments around access to abortion, support for comprehensive sexuality education, and the rights of individuals of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.
Taken together, these actions would not only have an immediate and positive impact around the world, they would send a strong and clear message that the United States, under President-elect Biden’s leadership, intends to reassert US leadership in support of human rights and access to health. These critical first steps will set the foundation for strong progress on sexual and reproductive health and rights in the years to come, and IWHC is eager to work with the incoming administration to make these goals a policy reality.