Editorial: ‘Global gag rule’ is failed, deadly policy

  • In this Thursday, Jan. 29, 2009, file photo, Dr. Aron Sikuku (right) explains family planning pills to Beatrice Ravonga in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya. U.S. President Donald Trump's move a year ago to dramatically expand cuts in U.S. funding to foreign organizations providing abortion services has left impoverished women around the world without access to treatment for HIV, tuberculosis and malaria, health groups say. AP

Published: 4/26/2018 12:04:59 AM

On Jan. 23, 2017, just three days after he was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States, Donald Trump reinstated what is known as the “Mexico City policy” or “global gag rule.” The law bans U.S. funding for foreign nongovernmental organizations that provide abortion counseling or referrals, or advocate for the decriminalization of abortion or the expansion of abortion services.

Ever since the ban was first instituted in 1984 by President Ronald Reagan, it has been repealed or reinstated depending on which party controls the White House. George H.W. Bush kept it in place, Bill Clinton repealed it, George W. Bush reinstated it, Barack Obama repealed it and then Trump reinstated and expanded it. The ban no longer affects international family planning organizations alone but every global health organization – and the integrated care they provide – that accepts U.S. funding. That means groups that are fighting against diseases such as HIV, malaria, tuberculosis and Ebola now face the same choice: agree to the gag order or lose aid that saves lives.

The Mexico City policy isn’t about making sure U.S. dollars don’t pay for abortions. The 1973 Helms Amendment, enacted in the wake of Roe v. Wade, prevents that from happening. The rule instead blocks health providers in Africa and elsewhere from offering the world’s poorest women critical family planning and health services. American politicians and voters who support the gag order should know this, too: A study published in 2011 found that areas in sub-Saharan Africa hit hardest by the global gag rule during the George W. Bush administration saw higher rates of abortion, a finding that has been supported by anecdotal evidence and independent research over the years. To put it simply, the outcome of the policy is the opposite of its intended goal.

The day after Trump signed the order reinstating and expanding the Mexico City policy, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and 46 co-sponsors, including Sen. Maggie Hassan and Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, introduced the Global Health, Empowerment and Rights (HER) Act to permanently repeal the policy. (Reps. Annie Kuster and Carol Shea-Porter are co-sponsors of the House version of the legislation.) The bill would allow foreign NGOs to use non-U.S. funds to provide abortion-related services that are legal in the United States and in their respective countries, remove discriminatory restrictions on crucial health care services and support free speech abroad.

With the knowledge that the gag rule is risking the health of millions of women and children, and increasing the number of abortions in Africa, we hope that support for the Global HER Act will continue to grow on both sides of the aisle. We also urge Ivanka and Melania Trump to use their influence with the president to help him see the tragic consequences of the policy in Ghana, Uganda, Mozambique and across the globe.

The global gag rule is bad policy, and that should be clear to everyone regardless of where they stand on abortion. When a measure intended to reduce abortions increases them instead – and endangers the lives of women, girls and infants already suffering under the weight of extreme poverty – it should be repealed without delay.

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