On January 23, 2017, President Donald Trump signed his “Presidential Memorandum Regarding the Mexico City Policy,” reinstating and expanding a policy that has been enacted by every Republican president since Ronald Reagan. The Mexico City Policy, also known as the Global Gag Rule, bans all federal global health funding to foreign non-governmental groups that provide information, referrals, or services for legal abortion or advocate for the legalization of abortion in their country, even if these activities are funded with their own, non-US funds. U.S. laws already restrict federal foreign aid funds from paying for “abortion as a method of family planning.”
The policy carries direct negative effects for women’s health care and opportunities. A 2011 Stanford University study found strong empirical evidence that the Global Gag Rule, by undermining initiatives to reduce unwanted pregnancies, may have actually increased abortion rates in the sub-Saharan African countries most exposed to the policy. In addition, it likely harms economic growth and poverty reduction in U.S. partner states.
In its thirty-year history, President Trump’s implementation of the Global Gag Rule is uniquely severe. While previous restrictions applied only to U.S. family planning funds, amounting to approximately $575 million in program funds, President Trump’s policy extends to all U.S. global health assistance, totaling an estimated $8.8 billion. Aside from family planning/reproductive health initiatives, the new policy now affects funding used to promote nutrition, sanitation/hygiene, and maternal and child health and to fight HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, and other infectious diseases. By undermining investments in local public health systems, the policy has direct negative effects on U.S. national security interests.
Though the full impact of President Trump’s expansion is not yet known, early analyses suggest a range of consequences. In June 2017, Human Rights Watch predicted a host of harmful outcomes stemming from the radically expanded Global Gag Rule, including among others, maternal deaths that would have been preventable; potential cuts in vaccination services for children and newborns and services preventing/treating malaria, HIV/AIDS, and tuberculosis; and the curtailing of speech of health providers and activists.
According to a 2014 report by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), the United States was the world's largest donor of family planning and reproductive health assistance between 2009 and 2011. Accounting for 29% of total assistance, the United States' role in promoting global health cannot be understated. Additional KFF analysis found that 37 of the 64 countries that received U.S. bilateral global health assistance in FY16 allow for legal abortion in at least one case not permitted by the Global Gag Rule. Had the expanded rule been in effect during FY 2013-2015, KFF states that at least 1,275 foreign NGO's would have been subject to the policy. As explained by PAI, the expanded policy, “will decimate health systems by undermining the most effective and experienced health care providers and putting their services out of reach.”
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Defend the health of the world's most vulnerable women and children by urging your congressional representatives to support the Global Health, Empowerment and Rights Act, also known as the Global HER Act. Introduced by Senator Jeanne Shaheen in the Senate and as a companion bill in the House by Representative Nita Lowey just one day after Trump reinstated the Global Gag Rule, the legislation would permanently repeal the policy. As explained by Human Rights Watch, while the legislation is, "highly unlikely to be adopted under the current Congress and endorsed by the administration, it has been gathering increased support and could be pursued as a long-lasting solution down the road."
Here's what to do:
- Call your congressional representatives right now at (202) 224-3121.
- Tell them that the Global Gag Rule endangers the health and safety of the developing world's most vulnerable communities. The policy will lead to otherwise preventable deaths and disease and will impact organizations that receive US assistance for other reasons, like fighting malaria and promoting nutrition.
- Remind your members of Congress of the relationship between global health and security; that healthier nations make for more stable, prosperous allies. The Global Gag Rule not only harms women and children around the world, it destabilizes the international community and harms American interests.
- The Mexico City Policy: An Explainer - The Kaiser Family Foundation, May 2018
- Access Denied: Nigeria - Preliminary Impacts of Trump’s Expanded Global Gag Rule - PAI, March 2018
- Her Health, Her Lifetime, Our World: Unlocking the Potential of Adolescent Girls and Young Women - Co-chairs: Helene D. Gayle and John H. Hammergren, CSIS, March 2017