Two days after millions of women and their allies throughout the world took to the streets to protest the bigotry and misogyny of Donald Trump, the president sat in the Oval Office, surrounded by other men, and signed an executive order that could have dire consequences for women living abroad.
The order revives a Reagan-era policy barring foreign aid to any health organization that provides abortions or even discusses the procedure as an option for women with unwanted pregnancies. Known as the “Mexico City Policy,” the rule was first presented at the International Conference on Population there in 1984 and enacted by Ronald Reagan soon after. Since then, it’s been revoked or restored at the beginning of new administrations, most recently by Barack Obama, who repealed it immediately after his inauguration. The policy goes a step beyond the 1973 Helms Amendment, which prevents federal funding from being used for abortion procedures overseas: It forbids health providers who receive US funds from using other sources of money to provide abortions. It also forbids organizations receiving US aid to refer women to other abortion providers, or counsel patients about the procedure—hence the policy’s other moniker, the “Global Gag Rule.”
The United States provides more funding for women’s health services than any other country. For health providers that receive that aid, the gag rule forces them to limit their services, or face a major budget gap. In other words, health organizations that provide a whole range of essential services besides abortion get punished. For women, it means narrower access not just to abortion but also to contraception, which in many poor countries is largely funded by foreign donors. Disruptions in aid put women at greater risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, and make them more likely to resort to unsafe abortions. More than 1,327 communities in Ghana, for instance, were affected after George W. Bush reinstated the rule in 2001, forcing Planned Parenthood Association of Ghana to forgo $200,000 in USAID funding and cut its nursing staff by 44 percent, according to Population Action International. In Kenya, two leading reproductive health–care providers were forced to close a total of 17 clinics. Contraceptive shipments from the US to 16 countries—primarily in Africa—stopped completely.
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