Experts Say Trump’s Global Gag Rule Will Imperil Global Health

Yesterday, we noted that President Trump has hardened the already punitive global gag rule, which bars U.S. foreign aid dollars from going towards any group that provides or counsels women on abortion, has ties to groups that do so, or advocates for abortion rights.

The White House dramatically expanded the policy, implemented by past Republican presidents starting with Ronald Reagan but dropped under Democrats Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, under the guise of opposing abortion, despite the fact that studies have found that the gag rule, also known as the Mexico City Policy, ends up increasing the abortion rate by defunding family planning services.

Ike Swetlitz and Lev Facher of Stat News report today that with the additional restrictions, the Trump administration is set to deal a massive blow to programs working on maternal and child care, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria.

Typically, the Mexico City Policy has only impacted funds specifically earmarked for family planning programs. Under the new policy, however, organizations that perform other health-related work and happen to support abortions — for example, a foreign NGO that does sexual health education to prevent the spread of HIV and also informs women that abortion is legal in the country — could see the whole of their US health funding disappear.

The policy the current White House will implement extends to all organizations that perform abortions, promote abortion, or even financially support other NGOs that do so. The restrictions also apply to a vast swath of foreign aid dollars — encompassing malaria prevention, HIV treatment, and maternal health — amounting to $8.8 billion, nearly 15 times more than the amount of restricted money under the policy as enacted under former President George W. Bush.

Foreign nongovernmental organizations are already prohibited from receiving money for family planning programs if that organization “performs or actively promotes abortion as a method of family planning,” according to guidance issued by the State Department in March. An organization must “agree in writing” that it will follow this policy in order to receive funds. Federal funds have also long been prohibited from being used on abortions directly, both within the United States and abroad.

Of the $8.8 billion, approximately $6 billion is earmarked for the Presidential Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, some of which is used to fund the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. Much of the money also goes to the US Agency for International Development family planning efforts, maternal health programs, and other public health initiatives.

PAI, a global advocate for contraceptive and reproductive health, said the new restrictions would “broaden the reach of the policy’s already deadly effects, including increasing unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortions, and maternal and child mortality.”

Earlier in the year, a coalition including Planned Parenthood, Marie Stopes International, a number of AIDS groups, and a variety of religious and labor organizations also released a joint statement opposing the reinstatement of the policy and citing “broad and severe” health consequences worldwide.