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On January 23, as one of his first acts as President of the USA, Donald Trump resurrected the Global Gag Rule, also known as the Mexico City Policy, an archaic remnant of Reagan’s destructive policy. What this rule boils down to is that the USA stops any funding from going to overseas organizations that have anything to do with abortions and indirectly everything involved with family planning, since the two are intrinsically linked. This leaves a 600-million-dollar hole which if left unfilled will lead to an increase of the female death rate in developing countries. Since the Trump Administration has broadened the Mexico City Policy to include all US global health assistance to foreign organizations, the impact will be even greater it was during the Reagan and both Bush presidencies.
On January 24 Lilianne Ploumen, Dutch minister of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, founded Ploumen4Women, now known as She Decides. It started out as an unofficial fundraising initiative without any initial backing from the government and has turned in a global collaboration. She Decides will focus its efforts mainly on the ramifications of the old Global Gag Rule, namely the family planning and abortions aspect.
She Decides is a fundraising initiative that aims to raise the money needed to at least keep the flow of cash towards affected organizations level. Its purpose is not to create new mechanisms, new organizations or new policies, but to get the money desperately needed to those groups that inform women in developing countries about abortions or those that perform them safely.
Minister Ploumen’s motivation was a simple and an important one. It was not simply to annoy Donald Trump and Mike Pence with one of their conservative opening salvos, though many would understand if that were the main reason. She feels that every woman has a right to proper and safe healthcare which includes family planning, whether that includes prenatal care or abortions. It was important to her to respond to the Mexico City Policy whether it succeeded or not.
Ploumen has stated that she didn’t want to wait for a European initiative because it would take too long and this matter was too important to be bogged down by drawn out European politics. Women and girls need to have safe healthcare on all levels. Banning abortions doesn’t lead to fewer abortions. It leads to more irresponsible practices in back rooms and more maternal deaths. This statement is widely supported by the European Union, NGO’s and several studies done by universities. Dr. Eran Bendavid at Stanford University found that women were two and half times more likely to get abortions when the global gag rule was implemented compared to when it wasn’t.
As the Dutch government has stated, She Decides is there to keep provisions for sexual healthcare and family planning in existence. This includes sex education, birth control, obstetric care, HIV-tests and treatments, and safe abortions. By making this public statement they make a very important observation that the Trump administration has failed to acknowledge or purposely doesn’t want to acknowledge: aid organizations that provide information about and perform abortions are invested in a lot more than just abortions. They provide fundamental health care for women, for everybody on a global scale.
The Dutch cabinet was the first to back its minister’s initiative with €10 million, but that was only the beginning. She Decides will seek its funds from governments, NGO’s, the private sectors, and citizens all over the world, not just from the Netherlands and its allies. There have even been talks about organizing a Live Aid size concert to raise money for the initiative.
On March 2nd a conference for She Decides was hosted by the Dutch, Swedish, Belgian and Danish ministers of Development Cooperation in Brussels, the political heart of Europe. 40 countries attended the conference, including the EU, countries from Africa and Asia, and Canada. Together with donations from foundations and private sectors $190 million was raised during the conference. Not nearly enough to fill the gap left, but it is a start. It was also great to see the contrast between Trump signing the Global Gag Rule, surrounded by generally old white men, and Ploumen in Brussels with men and women of different nationalities standing up for women’s rights and healthcare.
All in all, 235 organizations from dozens of countries pledged their support to She Decides, even if they couldn’t offer money. Of course, support also came from the USA in the shape of the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation and Global Citizen, which encouraged people to tell their political leaders to support the initiative. Lilianne Ploumen has said she has received phone calls from American women, grateful for She Decides, promising to promote the initiative and to donate money to the cause.
The overall response to She Decides has been a positive one, especially in Dutch and European media. The Dutch minister was hailed as SuperPloumen by a weekly satirical news program, the same one that started the America First, *insert country here* Second sketch. This was a wildly popular sketch all throughout Europe and inspired other countries and cities to make their own. It made a case as to why a country or city should come second after the USA, using a Trump-like voice complete with his recognizable speech pattern. Its presenter said that while he usually critiques the minister’s actions, he is in full support of this initiative. There has been no response from the White House.
With the Trump administration actively working against positive change and seemingly doing everything possible to halt development not just for women, but for a myriad of groups, it’s initiatives like She Decides that could make a difference. The beauty of the initiative is that it cannot function by itself. It will take a lot of people to ensure that family planning in developing countries remains safe. It started with one woman and hopefully it will end with filling that $600 million gap.
Header image: Minister Lilianne Ploumen