The Mexico City Policy, known more commonly as the global gag rule, was established by President Ronald Reagan in 1984. As the president changed, it was rescinded, reestablished, and rescinded again. In a flurry of activity by Donald Trump in his first week attempting to demonstrate how he can devastate as many communities as possible, he reinstated this rule once more. More than one source has suggested that this came as a backlash to the powerful women’s marches that occurred all over the world, speaking once again to Trump’s childish tantrum-like behavior, but I digress.
The policy means that any organization overseas that receives U.S. aid can have nothing to do with abortion services. Providers are not allowed to even mention the term abortion, even if abortion is legal in their country or they were providing abortions with their own funds.
The global gag rule is an assault on the rights of women everywhere, felt most particularly by poor women and women of color. Women with financial means and privilege will always be able to find ways to get an abortion if needed. Reducing abortion access does not reduce abortions. It simply makes them dangerous. The New Yorker notes that in the developing world, nearly seven million women are treated each year for complications by attempting to terminate a pregnancy independently. Sixty-eight thousand women die annually from such attempts.
Engender Health notes that from 2001 to 2009, when the global gag rule was established under President George W. Bush, “…20 developing countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East lost U.S. –donated contraceptives, and many organizations and clinics were forced to reduce services, lay off staff, or shut down entirely.” “In each of these places, the global gag rule affected family planning, HIV services, maternal and child health, and even malaria services. And in no place did the policy reduce abortions. In fact, the irony is that this policy led to more unwanted pregnancies.”
But in what has become something of a hallmark for our current brightly colored president, he took the global gag rule even further to make it more restrictive. In the past, foreign NGOs had to abide by the global gag rule in order to get funds from two sources: USAID and (after 2003) the U.S. State Department. In this latest revival, the rule is extended to global aid furnished by ALL U.S. governmental departments and agencies. As Michelle Goldberg writes on slate.com, “Trump’s version of the global gag rule expands the policy to all global health funding.” Suzanne Ehlers, president and CEO of the global reproductive health organization PAI noted in the article that in the past, the global gag rule impacted $600 million in U.S. foreign aid. In Trump’s latest revival, it will now affect $9.5 billion.
This impacts agencies that work with any number of issues that are very loosely connected to reproductive health. Previous administrations understood this, and George W. Bush even made an exception for HIV/AIDS programs in the global gag rule. I thought it would be a cold day in hell when I felt a pang of nostalgia for the GWB administration, but here we are.
This is a dark time in our country, and a horrible time to be anything other than a rich, white, straight, cisgendered, American-born male. However, I’ve taken to trying to find points of light in all this darkness for my own sanity and self-care, so I will leave you with this. Although Nikki Haley is very far from an ideal choice for any top-level position in the eyes of the progressive community, she has expressed that though she opposes abortion, she supports funding for contraceptive services abroad. Let’s hope in her new role as U.S. Ambassador to U.N. she can find some wiggle room in this draconian policy and will advocate for women’s health and, ultimately, their lives.
Header image: Trump signs the executive order reinstituting the global gag rule while surrounded by a bunch of white guys.