March 10, 2017

by Catherine Porter, JD

On January 25, by signing an executive order reinstating the Global Gag Rule (GGR), President Donald Trump and his administration declared war on women’s bodies around the world as well on a doctor’s duty to provide information to patients on the full range of treatment options in certain medical situations.

Trump’s executive order reinstates and expands a Reagan-era prohibition also known as the Mexico City policy. Since Reagan, the policy has been instituted by Republican presidents, and then quashed by Democratic presidents. Historically, the funding prohibition has applied only to family planning groups, but with Trump’s sweeping order, the GGR now prohibits federal funding to any foreign or international organization that provides or even mentions abortion as an option for women seeking help with an unwanted pregnancy—even if that organization largely provides contraception or more general reproductive health care.

In signing this order, the Trump administration ties the hands of, and prevents U.S. agencies such as U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institutes of Health, other Health and Human Services Department agencies, the Peace Corps, the Department of Defense and the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) from funding needed women’s health services around the globe. (Read More Here! – will link to blog)

In the past, there have been serious consequences of cutting-off funding to family planning clinics; those consequences could be even more dire with Trump’s more expansive policy. “The Global Gag rule as it existed under previous anti-women’s health presidents was deeply harmful. But this action will be catastrophic for all communities, especially those relying on U.S. funding to address HIV/AIDS and maternal health care, and the fight against Zika” said Katanya Mapp Frett, executive director of Planned Parenthood Global.[i]

(Re)instatement of the GGR has led to deadly outcomes:

–Prevented women and girls from accessing contraception. In Ethiopia, organizations that refused to comply with the rule under a Republican administration lost their USAID funding, resulting in lost family planning services including contraceptive supplies for the population. [ii] Marie Stopes International, one of USAID’s biggest family planning partners, estimates that the GGR will lead to an additional 2.2 million abortions worldwide — 2.1 of those will be unsafe.[iii]

–Resulted in unsafe and deadly abortions which are a leading cause of maternal death for women around the world. For example, unsafe abortions are the second-leading cause of death for women of reproductive age in Ethiopia; the first is HIV-AIDS. Peru’s maternal mortality rate is one of the highest in Latin America, at least in part due to its high rate of unsafe and clandestine abortions. [iv] Deaths due to unsafe abortions make up nearly 13% of all maternal deaths globally.[v]

–Hampered HIV prevention efforts. When the GGR went back into effect during George W. Bush’s administration, , USAID had to suspend shipment of condoms to the country of Lesotho because Planned Parenthood was the only provider of condoms in the country.[vi]

In a statement on Trump’s Global Gag Rule, Doctors without Borders USA’s executive director Jason Cone warned, “No matter what the risk or barrier, women will continue to seek ways to end pregnancies and they will continue to needlessly die if safe abortion care is not accessible. The Trump Administration needs to face these facts and end policies that endanger the lives of women and girls.”[vii]

In response, other countries and concerned women and men around the world began to step in almost immediately to fill this potentially huge gap in funding for sometimes life-and-death health services. Two days after Trump signed his executive order, the funding initiative, She Decides, was started by the Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, Lilianne Ploumen: “She Decides aims to increase financial as well as political support for sexual health and family planning worldwide and mitigate the impact of decreased U.S. funding for family planning.”[viii]

The U.S. House of Representatives is waging its own war against women here in the U.S., especially poor women. On February 16, the House eliminated a rule that barred state and local governments from withholding federal funds from family planning providers that offered full reproductive services, including abortion.[ix]

All doctors must speak out against endangering women’s lives and gagging health care providers when it comes to sharing the whole truth about reproductive treatment options with their patients. Here are some ways to do that:

  • Tell your Congressional representative and Senators Feinstein and Harris that you want this war on women to stop. Even if our Bay Area representatives are in our camp, they still want to and need to hear from us on these important issues. You can contact them here!
  • On March 15, join thousands of others in writing Donald Trump. Tell him he needs to reverse course on the global gag rule—women’s lives depend on it. Contact the White House here!
  • Find a family planning clinic in your area, an international women’s health organization, or a funding initiative like She Decides and see how you can help.

[i] http://www.nbcnews.com/health/womens-health/global-gag-rule-will-cause-more-abortions-not-fewer-groups-n711471

[ii] CHANGE—Center for Health and Gender Equality, Impact of Global Gag Rule on Women’s Health (February 2017) http://www.genderhealth.org/files/uploads/change/publications/GGR_Fact_Sheet_Jan_2017_1.pdf

[iii] CHANGE, Impact of Global Gag Rule on Women’s Health.

[iv] Mother Jones, Trump Reinstates Global Gag Rule to Cut off Family Planning Funds Abroad ( Jan. 23, 2017) Thttp://www.motherjones.com/politics/2017/01/trump-global-gag-rule,

[v] CHANGE, Impact of Global Gag Rule on Women’s Health.

[vi] CHANGE, Impact of Global Gag Rule on Women’s Health.

[vii] Medecins sans Frontieres/Doctors without Borders, Doctors without Borders Statement on the Reinstatement of the Mexico Policy on Abortion (Jan. 25, 2017) http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/article/doctors-without-borders-statement-reinstatement-mexico-city-policy-abortion

[viii] “The private fundraising accounts of She Decides are managed by Rutgers, an internationally operating NGO on sexual and reproductive health and rights, based in the Netherlands, in close cooperation with the government of the Netherlands.” https://www.shedecides.com/you-can-help.html

[ix] https://pingree.house.gov/