I wrote last year that “In the end, Donald J Trump, the unorthodox candidate, is no different than any other Republican establishment candidate” when it comes to a woman’s right to choose.
I would have liked to have been proven wrong.
But just three days into his term, President Trump is doubling down on ultra-conservative Republican dogma. On Monday morning he reinstated the Mexico City Policy, better known as the “Global Gag Rule”. With one stroke of his pen, we have taken ten steps backwards when it comes to women’s reproductive health around the world, and their ability to make an informed choice.
The Global Gag Rule has been a political football between Democrats, who see the dangerous policy for what it is, and Republicans, who want to continue to restrict women’s access to abortion. Since its enactment by President Reagan in 1984, the policy has hindered “the ability of women in poor countries to access reproductive health services, by severing US funding to health clinics that offer abortion services, counseling, referrals or who advocate for those options. ”
What does that mean exactly? It means that healthcare providers around the world who to wish receive US funding in support of higher standards of care, cannot mention abortion. You cannot help the terrified teenager who comes in with an unintended pregnancy. You may have to endanger the life of a woman with an ectopic pregnancy, or turn away the woman whose pregnancy resulted from rape or incest. But if you don’t provide abortions, and you promise never to talk to your patients about abortion, you can have the money. This is a price far too high.
Today’s decision reinstating the Global Gag Rule is a huge step backwards for the United States as a responsible global leader, and for the health and welfare of millions of the world’s poorest women.
More than one report has shown that the Global Gag Rule is harmful, especially to the women who depend on NGOs for medical care—the poor of the Global South. A study of 20 sub-Saharan African countries by Stanford University researchers, for instance, found that in countries that relied heavily on funding for the US for reproductive health services, abortion rates rose when the Reagan-era policy was in place. Women’s lives, when abortions are unsafe, should not be the price for eliminating essential reproductive health services including abortion.
As a Catholic, I cannot help but see that social justice will be greatly undermined by this cynical move: It is the poor who will suffer and die as a result, because the Global Gag Rule will severely impact some of the poorest countries in the world by scrapping practical, life-saving programs and curtailing the effectiveness of global health services.
Furthermore, it is hypocritical—such a restriction would not fly in the US, where similar attempts to prevent health care providers from informing patients of their medical options has been hotly contested. And rightly so. It is not just an issue of reproductive rights, but of freedom of speech as well.
It beggars belief that an American president is imposing such a rule, even as women are dying of unsafe abortions in their country.
That President Trump would reinstate such a draconian anti-free speech, anti-freedom, anti-American measure and impose it upon citizens in other countries is a tragedy of global importance. The policy will do nothing to improve the health and welfare of the world’s poorest women. Instead, it indicates that the Trump presidency is not on the side of American values and freedom of speech but only sees reproductive health issues as an easy throw-away to the more extreme elements that backed his presidential campaign.
Jon O'Brien is president of Catholics for Choice, a pro-choice dissenting Catholic advocacy group based in Washington DC
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