The Gag Rule And Its Effects In The Developing World

The Trump administration has re-adopted the Mexico City policy and expanded its reach and strength to incorporate all American aid organizations, not just those focused on providing family planning. The Mexico City policy, also labelled the gag rule, was initially passed by President Reagan in 1984. It aimed at preventing the use of federal money, channelled through American aid organizations, to fund abortions. In addition to the technical funding components, the Mexico City policy had the side effect of projecting the pro-life debate globally.

Since Reagan, all Republican presidents have adopted the gag rule, while all Democrat presidents have repealed it. Its latest reincarnation prevent all aid organizations from providing pregnant women any form of help, including advice on where or how to obtain an abortion. Previous versions of the legislation simply required organizations to avoid promoting abortion as a form of family planning.

Human Rights Watch estimated that the Trump gag rule will reduce US global health aid by $9.5 billion. This number is expected to be higher when smaller local groups are considered, many of which are indirectly funded by the US government through organizations such as the International Planned Parenthood Federation. For fear of penalties for non-compliance, international aid organizations that provide family planning services in over 180 countries are expected to cut ties with grassroots organizations.

The effects of the Mexico City policy under the Bush administration are apparent. Death and future infertility caused by unsafe abortions rose dramatically, as did the spread of HIV/AIDS and suicides in expectant young mothers. Current concerns revolve around the effect the gag rule will have on pregnant women infected with the Zika virus and the safety of their deliveries.

Although the Trump administration has allowed exceptions for rape victims, victims of incest and termination to preserve the life of the mother, these fine print exceptions have little impact on the lives of women attempting to access help. Many of these pregnancies are carried to term because mothers were unable to access transportation or funds for transportation to a medical clinic. As more abortion clinics are closed down due to the lack of funding from the gag rule, the need for transportation and assistance to take time off work is increasing, while the accessibility of this help is waning. Without the ability to access a safe abortion, many expecting mother opt for unsafe, unsanitary and often deadly abortions, performed by unqualified people. The gag rule even affects those countries in which abortion is legal, such as Colombia, Mozambique, Nepal and Ghana. It is undemocratic to refuse pregnant women the ability to access their legal rights by withholding funds in a form of moral blackmail. A right, in theory, is discredited without a real protection of that right.

Now is the worst possible time to implement this policy. It flies in the face of global communal aims to provide adequate healthcare to all people, embodied in the UN Millennium Development Goals and the Sustainable Development Goals. The ability to time and space out pregnancies is an essential component of raising living standards and promoting development in underdeveloped countries. In countries with access to safe abortions, infant mortality rates are lower and women are better able to find the financial means to support a family. The ability to provide children with an education, proper nutrition, and care, in turn, leads to a more productive society with higher living standards. This ability, in part, depends on how many children a family’s resources must cover and at what time intervals that care must be provided. As the international community converges on the idea that access to healthcare and the ability to time and space pregnancies is an essential component to promoting development, the Trump administration’s gag rule sends a strong message to the international community about its commitment to these global goals.

The new administration is exercising moral imperialism in its attempt to dictate women’s decisions to have children. On top of that, it actively and unnecessarily perpetuates the cycle of poverty for families in the developing world.

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