On January 23rd, just two days after millions of women gathered to march for their rights under an overtly sexist administration, Donald Trump retaliated by reissuing the Mexico City Policy, more commonly known as the Global Gag Rule. Instated by every Republican administration since its creation by Reagan, and abolished by every Democrat in the Oval Office since then, the Gag Rule has a long history of bitter controversy. Though its reinstatement under Trump was to be expected, he has, unsurprisingly, pushed the boundaries of executive power and taken it a step further. Not only is this a major setback for women’s rights, but it is also a huge blow to global healthcare – and here’s why.
The Gag Rule, originally intended to further pro-life interests, arose in 1984 out of Reagan’s previously unprecedented anti-choice campaign platform. In summary, it aims to lower abortion rates by forbidding foreign family planning organizations that partake in US financial assistance from providing, promoting, or even mentioning abortion services to their patients. Non-compliance will result in immediate retraction of funding. Proven ineffectiveness notwithstanding (multiple sources, including the World Health Organization and Amnesty International, maintain that banning abortions does nothing to actually decrease abortion rates), the Gag Rule’s restrictive nature indirectly impacts other forms of women’s healthcare designed to PREVENT abortions, like contraception.
However, Trump was apparently unsatisfied with this already heavily criticized display of power, and extended the Gag Rule’s reach to new territory. Now, instead of applying to exclusively family planning organizations, it will extend to all healthcare programs, even those primarily focused on other health crises such as HIV/AIDS and the Zika virus. Under the old Gag Rule, $608 million of federal funding allocated for family planning organizations was affected. Under Trump’s all-exclusive Gag Rule, the dollar amount under fire is now $9.5 billion. Foreign leaders are now forced to make the choice of excluding and/or severely limiting reproductive services, or risk losing the funding they so desperately need.
The near catastrophic possibilities have not been lost on the public, with many medical experts condemning Trump’s apparent disregard for women’s lives. Dawn Laguens, Vice President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, explained in an interview with Democracy Now, “[W]hen Barack Obama took office eight years ago and reversed the global gag rule, there were some 70,000 women a year dying from these policies being in place. That has dropped down to 20,000 now at the end of eight years.” One can only expect the trend to reverse, leading to tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths due to the Trump administration’s restrictive and biased policies.
Those terrified by this and other, worse possibilities were met with a modicum of hope when the Dutch government expressed its wishes to pick up the funding where the US will leave off. Though not official yet, hopefully, it will help provide the services that women require to maintain autonomy of their own bodies, as well as other forms of medical care not exclusive to reproductive health. In the meantime, women and allies everywhere will continue the fight to make their voices heard under a regime that refuses to concern itself with the struggles of marginalized groups.