President Trump’s anti-choice rhetoric is reflected in his administration’s foreign policies, which has a disastrous effect on the health of women around the world.
US foreign aid hasn’t funded abortion providers overseas since the Helms Amendment was introduced in 1973 in the wake of Roe vs Wade, prohibiting US aid funding from being used to support abortion services. The Global Gag Rule (also called the Mexico City Policy and the Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance policy) was first implemented under Reagan in 1984, and significantly expanded by President Trump in 2017. The expanded version prohibits US aid funding from being used to fund any NGOs overseas or in the US which provide abortion advice, counselling, referrals or services.
While the intention of the policy is arguably to prevent abortions, it completely restricts discussion and referral for safe abortion services, and therefore increases the number of unsafe abortions. This puts women at a much higher risk of death or disability from dangerous, unsafe abortions by disreputable providers.
Defunding organisations who provide contraception, sexual health and family planning services creates an environment where the number of abortions can increase, as women cannot access contraception in the first place.
A recent study published in The Lancet found that the last time the Gag Rule was in effect from 1995-2014, abortion rates increased by 40% in sub-Saharan countries reliant on US aid.
A similar study showed that women in Latin America were three times more likely to have an abortion while the Global Gag Rule was in effect. Many of these abortions were likely unsafe. Unsafe abortions account for between 4.7% and 13.2% of maternal deaths globally.
In 2017, MSI’s annual donor income was reduced by 17%, or AUS $42 million. This funding had previously supported MSI to reach an estimated 2 million women around the world with family planning services annually. Over Trump’s full term, continued USAID funding would have allowed MSI to serve an estimated 8 million women with family planning, preventing 6 million unintended pregnancies, 1.8 million unsafe abortions and 20,000 maternal deaths.
Aside from the loss of funding, a dangerous consequence of the Global Gag Rule is the ‘chilling effect’, where fear and confusion over the policy has led to self-censorship and over-implementation of the policy. This in turn further reduces discussion and awareness of comprehensive reproductive services, and further stigmatises women seeking help. This makes it more difficult to advocate and change laws in countries where abortion and contraception access is legally restricted.
Marjorie Newman-Williams, President of MSI United States said: “Women and girls pay the price for cruel policies like the Global Gag Rule: from the adolescent girl who could have prevented an unplanned pregnancy, so she could finish school, to the mother of five who could have avoided an unsafe, backstreet abortion.
“This study adds new urgency to efforts that would permanently repeal the Global Gag Rule. We owe it to women and girls around the world who have lost access to contraception and safe abortion, and control over their bodies, lives and futures. They deserve better than the Global Gag Rule.”