The Crisis in Care report is part of IWHC’s on-going commitment to document the harmful impacts of the expanded Global Gag Rule and advocate with US policymakers to end this dangerous policy. IWHC works in partnership with grantee partners in Kenya, Nepal, Nigeria, and South Africa to provide a comprehensive look at the impact of the policy on women, marginalized communities, health care providers, and civil society. In addition to this full report, IWHC’s grantee partners have also produced country-specific reports on Nepal and South Africa. Read a section of the report below and download the full report to learn more.

Executive Summary

On January 23, 2017, US President Donald Trump issued a presidential memorandum reinstating and expanding the Mexico City Policy, also known as the “Global Gag Rule.” [i] President Trump’s implementation plan for the expanded policy, called “Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance,” was announced in May 2017.[ii] The policy states that any foreign nongovernmental organization (NGO) that takes US global health funds must certify that it does not engage in certain abortion-related activities, including providing abortion services, information, counseling and referrals, and advocating to expand access to safe abortion services.[iii] The Global Gag Rule applies not only to what groups do with US global health funding, but also to what they do with their own, non-US government funds. It forces health care providers to choose between providing a comprehensive spectrum of reproductive health care and receiving critical US funding. President Trump’s Global Gag Rule expands a bad policy enacted by all previous Republican presidents since Ronald Reagan. It now implicates almost $9 billion in US foreign assistance, affecting many organizations that had not previously had to comply with it.

The International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC) is committed to documenting the impacts of the “Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance” (“the policy” or “the Global Gag Rule”) restrictions on civil society, the political climate, and the health of women, girls, and other marginalized populations. It will do so alongside grantee partners in Kenya, Nepal, Nigeria, and South Africa as long as the policy is in place. To date, IWHC and partners have conducted interviews with civil society organizations, health service providers, anti-abortion groups, and government agencies across the four documentation project countries (“documentation countries”).

In the first project phase, IWHC and partners conducted 59 interviews and documented widespread confusion about the policy and fears about how devastating it would be for the most vulnerable populations in society. A year ago, the policy was already threatening health systems and limiting access to critical health services. Now, these impacts are coming into sharp relief. In this second phase of the project, interviews with 118 key informants revealed the following impacts:

The policy is harmful to the health and well-being of women, young people, and marginalized communities, such as LGBTQI, rural, poor, and religious minority communities. The policy is exacerbating existing barriers to accessing health care, making a broad range of services less accessible, including comprehensive abortion care, contraceptive services, HIV/AIDS testing and treatment, screening for cervical cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, and support for survivors of gender-based violence.

The policy is creating funding gaps, causing the fragmentation of health services, and halting critical health programs, including those strengthening the delivery of government services. NGOs play critical roles in ensuring the health of communities not only through direct service provision, but also by providing technical and financial assistance to governments, building capacity among health workers, and strengthening health systems. Gaps left by the policy can be difficult and time-intensive, if not impossible, to fill.

The policy is burdening organizations, shrinking civil society spaces, silencing voices, and creating distrust. The burden of implementing and monitoring the requirements of the policy bears heavily on organizations that have to cut programs, restructure, retrench staff, and closely monitor compliance. The policy is fracturing important partnerships and coalitions and limiting civil society’s ability to work effectively and hold their governments accountable.

Confusion and misunderstanding about the policy is still common among key stakeholders. Stakeholders, including leaders of organizations receiving US global health funding, reported confusion about the policy. They often interpreted the policy as being broader than it is and did not know that it allowed for the provision of postabortion care or referrals for services in cases of rape and incest.

The policy is emboldening regressive actors and threatening progress made in advancing human rights. The policy is creating new opportunities for groups that oppose sexual and reproductive rights and women’s rights to expand their influence. It also provides individuals with regressive views an excuse to block progress on these matters within their professional capacities. Foreign governments have remained largely silent about the consequences of the policy on the health of their own people.

Based on the findings, IWHC makes the following recommendations to the US legislative branch:

  • Permanently repeal the Global Gag Rule through passage of the Global HER Act
  • Hold oversight hearings to examine the impacts of the Global Gag Rule, and the ways that this policy has been implemented
  • Use every available opportunity to demand answers from the Trump administration about how the policy is affecting US global health priorities

To the US executive branch:

  • Develop and share clear guidelines for implementation of the policy with all recipients of US global health funding, including sub-award recipients and local organizations
  • As long as the policy is in effect, any US government review process must be a consultative, transparent, comprehensive, and action-oriented analysis of the policy and its impacts

Other recommendations:

  • All international NGOs, both prime recipients of US global health assistance and others, should document the impact of the policy on their organization’s work, including the misapplication, over-application, and chilling effects of the policy
  • All stakeholders should continue to resist this harmful policy and work towards ending it. US-based NGOs should continue to build support among members of Congress and the general public to repeal the policy