Trump’s ‘Global Gag Rule’ And Its Effects On Women In Developing Countries

In January of 2017, the Trump administration implemented the “Mexico City Policy,” also known as the “global gag rule.” The rule was created by the Reagan administration in 1984 and since then, every Republican administration has implemented the rule and every Democratic administration has revoked it. The global gag rule prevents US foreign aid from going to organizations that either provide access to abortion or even discuss abortion with their patients.

Although it was predictable that the Trump administration would implement the rule, what wasn’t predictable was its updated scope. The Trump administration’s version of the global gag rule goes beyond every previous Republican administration. Unlike other versions of the policy, Trump’s global gag rule restricts funding from all global health organizations, rather than just family planning organizations. This means that any global health organization that even discusses or recommends abortion as a family planning tool will be barred from receiving foreign aid from the USA. This might include organizations that provide contraceptives, HIV/AIDS treatment, and basic healthcare.

According to Vox, the global gag rule will cut 15 times more funding than any other iteration of the policy. Population Action International’s Elisha Dunn Georgiou said that “Trump’s global global gag rule is a cruel and unusual version of an already grotesque policy.”

One organization that will be affected by the policy is Marie Stopes. In Madagascar, Marie Stopes currently serves 800,000 men and women, with 38% of Madagascan women getting their contraceptives from Marie Stopes. Madagascar is a young country, with 64% of their population under the age of 25. It’s highly important that young Madagascans have easy access to effective methods of contraception. Understanding this, the Obama administration in 2016 gave $3.5 million worth of funding to Marie Stopes. With the global gag rule in place, Marie Stopes will receive no funds from US foreign aid.

“Just in 2016, we helped avoid approximately 165,000 unwanted births,” Marie Stopes Madagascar director Lalaina Razafinirinasoa said in an interview with Vox. “By 2020, [if we kept our funding, we would have prevented] 1 million unintended pregnancies, more than 2,000 maternal deaths, and approximately 340,000 abortions. And we estimate the savings to the Madagascan government would be around £39.2 million in direct healthcare costs over that period. But now all of this will be not achieved due to this new policy, this new executive order.”

The rationale behind the policy is based on the assumption that if you restrict funding to organizations that mention abortion, they will stop recommending or providing abortions. Whatever one’s views are on abortion rights, organizations like Marie Stopes and Planned Parenthood aren’t going to just stop providing abortions and women aren’t going to stop needing abortions. After the executive order was signed by Trump, Marie Stopes released a statement saying that abortions are “a vital component of women’s reproductive healthcare, and therefore we cannot agree to these conditions.” International Planned Parenthood has refused to stop providing abortions, meaning they and most other global health organizations will lose funding.

The international organizations that will lose funding provide more than just abortions. They also provide other methods of family planning like contraceptives and education. By cutting off funding for organizations that provide contraceptives to women, it is more likely that those women will become pregnant. They will then be faced with the choice of either delivering a child they may not be in the financial or emotional position to raise, or having a more costly abortion. This could mean that the global gag rule will actually increase the number of abortions provided.

A study by the World Health Organization (WHO) found that when the Bush administration instituted the global gag rule in 2001, abortion rates in Sub-Saharan Africa increased. In 2001, the rate of abortions in 20 Sub-Saharan African countries was 11 in 10,000. In 2008, the rate increased to 26 in 10,000. The WHO also found that countries with high exposure to the policy had a higher rate of abortions than countries with low exposure. In attempting to explain this phenomenon, the study cited one fairly obvious explanation: “if women consider abortion as a way to prevent unwanted births, then policies curtailing the activities of organizations that provide modern contraceptives may inadvertently lead to an increase in the abortion rate.”

If the Trump administration wants to decrease the rate of abortions around the world, cutting funding to organizations that provide contraceptives will not help.

The Republican Party must reconcile with the fact that abortions will always occur. One can try to decrease the rate of abortions through expanding access to contraceptives, but abortions will always remain a necessary component of women’s reproductive health. As such, policies should be geared towards improving the safety of abortions rather than trying to eradicate them. Unfortunately, the global gag rule won’t just increase the number of abortions being provided, but it will also increase the number of unsafe abortions being provided.

With reduced funding, abortion providers charge more for their services and reach fewer women in need of them. This may force women, particularly in developing countries, to undergo unsafe abortions. According to a World Bank report, 68,000 women already die every year from unsafe abortions, with another 5.3 million suffering temporary or permanent disabilities. A spokesperson for Marie Stopes said: “We estimate that without alternative funding, the loss of our services during Trump’s first term, between 2017 and 2020, could result [in] 6.5 million unintended pregnancies, 2.2 million abortions, 2.1 million unsafe abortions, and 21,700 maternal deaths.”

The global gag rule isn’t just detrimental to women, it’s detrimental to sick people generally. Since the Trump administration’s updated version of the rule applies to global health organizations, funding is being cut to AIDS research, malaria prevention and the provision of vaccines.

But why does the USA fund these things in the first place? The USA provides funding to global health organizations to achieve the seemingly obvious goal of global female empowerment and improved health standards. Some US citizens might be frustrated that their tax dollars are going to organizations that provide abortions, but if the USA were to take an isolationist approach to foreign aid, people will definitely suffer. In fact, if every country were to adopt the “why should I care” mentality and suddenly cut foreign aid, the developing world would be set back decades. At the end of the day, funding to family planning organizations is good for female empowerment, which is good for the economies of developing countries. This latest iteration of the global gag rule is a major step backwards.