#23. “Global Gag Rule” Continues to Compromise Women’s Health around World

by Project Censored
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The United States’s global gag rule continues to put at risk the sexual health of women in developing countries that rely on US aid. This federal rule—formally known as the “Mexico City Policy”—blocks access to the $9 billion of US federal funding for NGOs that provide abortion counseling, referrals, or any kind of abortion services throughout the world. In the first days of the new presidential term in January 2017, the Trump-Pence administration reinstated and drastically expanded the global gag rule. Three years after the implementation of the new guidelines, women continue to be harmed, Rewire.News and other independent news outlets reported.

The global gag rule was first implemented by the Reagan administration in 1984, and has continuously been changed, repealed, and reinstated through partisan presidencies. The Trump administration has advanced the strictest policies yet, expanding its scope to include other forms of assistance from the State Department, USAID, Department of Health and Human Services, and Department of Defense. The federal rule forces organizations to choose between receiving global health assistance from the United States and providing comprehensive reproductive care. The current enforcement of the policy, according to the Rewire.News report, denies funding for “HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, nutrition, maternal health, family planning, and malaria.” 

According to the Sierra Club, British-based NGO Marie Stopes International, which works in 37 countries to provide contraception and safe abortions, suffered a huge funding gap for continuing to provide abortion services. Karen J. Coates reported that this cut in finances will lead to an estimated “1.8 million unintended pregnancies, 600,000 unsafe abortions, and 4,600 avoidable maternal deaths.” In addition, the current terms of the gag rule are so broad that, along with defunding organizations that provide contraceptive and abortion services, many international health organizations that do not specialize in abortion or family planning are being targeted. As Coates reported, in March 2019 “Secretary of State Mike Pompeo further interpreted the rule to include subcontractors and partner organizations working with any group receiving US health aid.”

Despite the stated intentions of the Republican politicians who have supported the policy, the net effect of the global gag rule in its many incarnations from 1984 to now has, ironically, been to increase abortions and suffering. As Coates noted, “One study, published in the Lancet, followed three-quarters of a million women in 26 countries over 20 years and found that during previous impositions of the rule, abortions rose by 40 percent in the most affected regions.”

In early 2019 US lawmakers introduced the Global Health, Empowerment, and Rights Act. If this bill is passed, it would “permanently repeal the global gag rule and prevent future administrations from easily reimposing it via executive order.” To date, the act has yet to make it to a congressional vote.

The global gag rule has received very limited corporate media coverage. The New York Times has published a pair of articles and a Q. and A., along with a plethora of opinion pieces from 2001 to 2019 on the policy. The articles, however, cover the politics of the situation without helping readers to understand the policy’s impacts on global health organizations, and by extension, women throughout the world. The Washington Post covered the story in 2017 but lacked substantial detail concerning the impact the policy would have on groups like Marie Stopes International. The only substantial coverage of this issue apart from the Rewire.News and Sierra reports has come from other independent sources, such as KPFA and The Independent.

Monica Kerrigan and Nelly Munyasia, “Three Years Later, Trump’s ‘Global Gag Rule’ Continues to Devastate Global Health,” Rewire.News, January 23, 2020, https://rewire.news/article/2020/01/23/three-years-later-trumps-global-gag-rule-continues-to-devastate-global-health/.

Karen J. Coates, “The Global Gag Rule Puts a Choke Hold on Contraception,” Sierra, November–December 2019, https://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/2019-6-november-december/protect/global-gag-rule-puts-choke-hold-contraception [first published online October 30, 2019].

Student Researcher: Madison Miller (North Central College)

Faculty Evaluator: Steve Macek (North Central College)