March 26, 2019

Today the Trump administration escalated its attacks on women’s health and rights as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced a new expansion to the Global Gag Rule and invoked the Siljander Amendment, placing additional restrictions on funding to multilateral institutions. The International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC) unequivocally condemns the administration’s latest attempts to isolate, stigmatize, and marginalize groups working to ensure that women have access to abortion services.

“By once again expanding the Global Gag Rule, the Trump administration is taking a deadly policy and making it worse,” said IWHC Director of Advocacy and Policy Shannon Kowalski. “Coupled with the unprecedented use of the Siljander Amendment to target a multilateral organization, today’s announcement is yet another example of the administration’s ideologically-driven attempt to restrict women’s access to health care, no matter the costs.”

The Trump administration’s Global Gag Rule is having a devastating impact on women’s health. The policy already prohibits foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that receive US global health funding from providing, counselling, referring, or advocating for abortion care—even with their own funds—and requires that they enforce those provisions on sub-grantees of US government funding. Today’s announcement requires that foreign NGOs apply this provision to all sub-grantees—not just those who receive US funds. In practice, this means that they must end all funding relationships with any organization that provides, counsels, refers, or advocates for abortion. This has serious implications for the entire global health community and is intended to further isolate and stigmatize organizations that provide comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care.

IWHC has worked with grantee partners in Kenya, Nepal, Nigeria, and South Africa to capture the effects of the Global Gag Rule on local communities. In a country like Kenya—where seven women die every day from the consequences of unsafe abortion—IWHC has already seen how the implementation of this policy has cut off access to essential reproductive health services, including contraceptives and HIV testing.

As a result of the Global Gag Rule, Family Health Options Kenya (FHOK), an affiliate of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, was forced to close clinics that serve marginalized communities. FHOK’s outreach services, which had previously reached about 76,000 women annually, have also been discontinued. A community health worker interviewed by an IWHC partner shared that her former clients are still reaching out to her for help, unsure of where to access services. When organizations shut down their clinics, no other groups have been able to step in and effectively fill the gaps. The expanded application of the policy will make it even more difficult for organizations that provide comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care to find and maintain support, both from peer organizations and other donors.

“There is no question: the Global Gag Rule is already robbing women of their agency and it is already costing them their lives. The further extension of this policy will only make things worse,” said Kowalski.

IWHC is also concerned that Secretary Pompeo used the briefing to discredit civil society and the documented impacts of the Global Gag Rule, including an increase in unsafe abortions. In South Africa, the executive director of an organization working to improve access to sexual and reproductive health services in rural areas reported that several women’s clinics in remote areas had closed down, limiting women’s access to wide range of services. She explained:

When the US pulls out and [organizations close] down services, it is not just the abortion services. It is the information to women, it is HIV services, it is pregnancy services, teenage pregnancy…And it [promotes] unsafe abortions. All those things are impacted on the Global Gag Rule. So, what has happened is that women’s lives have become much more vulnerable, they don’t have access in the way that they did—and it is always the most poor marginalized who suffer the most.

Secretary Pompeo also announced that the administration will invoke the Siljander Amendment, which prohibits the use of US funds—including foreign assistance funds—to lobby for or against abortion against the Organization of American States. The move was made in response to a complaint from Republican members of the US Senate about statements made by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in support of decriminalizing abortion in Latin America.

The Inter-American Commission is an independent body of experts within the Inter-American System that has the responsibility of promoting and protecting human rights in the region. The invocation of Siljander in this instance is a dangerous move intended to undermine the legitimacy and independence of autonomous human rights institutions, and bring them in line with the administration’s regressive views.

Contact: Liza Kane-Hartnett; (+1) 917.498.3346

Photo: Ron Przysucha / Public Domain