‘Global gag rule’ opponents transcend political sphere

Humanitarians, health providers condemn Trump's expansion of Mexico City Policy

Women's rights advocate Melinda Gates spoke out against the expansion of the Mexico City Policy aimed at cutting funds from global health providers. (Melinda Gates via Facebook)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Republicans, Democrats, foreign leaders, doctors, women’s rights activists and humanitarians like Bill and Melinda Gates are just some of the people challenging President Donald Trump’s reinstatement and expansion of the Mexico City Policy.

The policy, otherwise known as the global gag rule, aims to strip funding from any foreign health organization that goes so far as to provide patients with information about safe abortion practices, even though it is already illegal for U.S. dollars to fund abortion services both at home and abroad.

Trump is the first president to expand the policy, making it applicable to every foreign department or agency that receives U.S. health aid, not just family planning groups.

That means health organizations that provide HIV/AIDS treatment, help prevent the spread of infectious diseases and consult women on the risks of the Zika virus are in danger of losing vital funding if they even mention the option of abortion.

What is the ‘global gag rule’ on abortion?

In an interview with the Guardian published Tuesday, Bill and Melinda Gates warned the global gag rule could endanger the lives of millions of women and their babies, while creating “a void that even a foundation like ours can’t fill.”

“This shift could impact millions of women and girls around the world,” Melinda said. “It’s likely to have a negative effect on a broad range of health programs that provide lifesaving treatment and prevention options to those most in need.”

Bill and Melinda Gates emphasized the importance of empowering women through access to health services and contraceptives in their 2017 letter to Warren Buffet. (Gates Foundation via Facebook)
Bill and Melinda Gates emphasized the importance of empowering women through access to health services and contraceptives in their 2017 letter to Warren Buffet. (Gates Foundation via Facebook)

The billionaire philanthropists recently wrote a letter to Warren Buffet in which they assessed the progress the Gates Foundation has made since 2006. In their letter, Bill and Melinda emphasized the importance of empowering the world’s poorest women.

One way to do that, they explained, is to give women access to contraceptives.

“Right now, there are still more than 225 million women in the developing world who don’t want to get pregnant but don’t have access to contraceptives,” Bill wrote.

Access to contraceptives in developing countries has been on the rise thanks to efforts by global health organizations and philanthropists like Bill and Melinda Gates. But the global gag rule undermines that progress. (Gates Notes)
Access to contraceptives in developing countries has been on the rise thanks to efforts by global health organizations and philanthropists like Bill and Melinda Gates. But the global gag rule undermines that progress. (Gates Notes)

Thanks to efforts by global health organizations and philanthropists like Bill and Melinda Gates, access to contraceptives in developing countries has been on the rise.

But the global gag rule undermines that progress. The policy threatens to pull all USAID from the very organizations that have made some of the biggest strides in getting women contraceptives and access to lifesaving health services.

“I started my career working at the World Bank on health care in India,” Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said. “I saw firsthand how clinics funded by foreign aid are often the only source of health care for women. When women are given even the most basic health care information and services, they live longer, healthier lives — and they give birth to children who live longer, healthier lives.”

Like Bill and Melinda Gates, Sandberg acknowledged the effects of Trump’s expanded global gag rule on the world’s most vulnerable women will be devastating.

“We don’t have to guess — we know what this will do,” she said. “The last time the global gag rule was in effect, research showed more women who lost access to contraception had unwanted pregnancies and abortion rates doubled.”

Elaine Wynn and Sheryl Sandberg pledge $1M each to Planned Parenthood in wake of Trump’s expansion of ‘global gag rule’

Studies on the effects of the global gag rule in the past confirm Sandberg’s message.

Although proponents of the global gag rule laud it as a way to reduce the number of abortions performed, studies suggest the policy actually does the opposite. A Stanford University study showed abortion rates in sub-Saharan African countries increased significantly in the years after the global gag rule was reinstated in 2001.

“You don’t reduce abortions by not making them accessible,” Rachel Duke of the South African Medical Research Council told the LA Times. “You make women sick and make women die from the consequences of backyard abortions.”

Organizations like Marie Stopes International run clinics throughout the developing world that provide women access to abortion services, in addition to a plethora of family planning options that help prevent the need for abortion.

Marjorie Newman-Williams, director of operations for Marie Stopes International, told the New York Times her group could not accept the restrictive global gag rule.

Last year, the organization provided family planning services to millions of women in the developing world using $30 million in aid from the U.S. Those services prevented an estimated 1.6 million unintended pregnancies and averted 530,000 abortions.

But for the next 4 years, Newman-Williams said, the group will lose that money.

“There will be a huge void in service delivery, and unless we can make up that money really fast, the funding won’t be there,” Newman-Williams said.

Organizations that provide women access to family planning services like injectable contraceptives are at risk of losing vital funding under the global gag rule. (Gates Foundation)
Organizations that provide women access to family planning services like injectable contraceptives are at risk of losing vital funding under the global gag rule. (Gates Foundation)

A loss in funding for groups like Marie Stopes International will only make it harder for women in the developing world to get access to contraceptives. Without contraceptives, unwanted pregnancies become more common.

“Every year 21.6 million women are so desperate to end their pregnancy they put their lives on the line by risking an unsafe abortion,” Newman-Williams said.

The organization estimates the global gag rule will prevent 1.5 million women from getting access to contraceptives every year. The restrictive policy will result in an additional 6.5 million unintended pregnancies, 2.1 million unsafe abortions and 21,700 maternal deaths just during Trump’s first term.

Attempts to stop abortion through restrictive laws – or by withholding family planning aid – will never work, because they do not eliminate women’s need for abortion. This policy only exacerbates the already significant challenge of ensuring that people in the developing world who want to time and space their children can obtain the contraception they need to do so.

“It denies people the right to make choices that could improve their living conditions, from the girl who could have avoided an unwanted pregnancy and continued her education, to the mother of five who could have averted the life-threatening risk of an unsafe abortion. The impact of the Mexico City Policy will be catastrophic and it is women in developing countries who will pay the price.”

 –  Marjorie Newman-Williams, Marie Stopes International VP and Director

News of Trump’s expansion of the global gag rule has been met with harsh criticism from foreign leaders who vowed to create an international fund to finance access to birth control, abortion and sex education for women in developing countries.

“International health care organizations already cover abortion services on their own dime — and have for decades. [The global gag rule] is a tremendous blow to the ability of women everywhere to access fundamental health care.” – Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR)

On Wednesday, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop announced the Australian government would provide $9.5 million over 3 years for the Sexual and Reproductive Health Program in Crisis and Post Crisis Settings (SPRINT) in the Indo-Pacific region.

In the U.S., legislation was introduced in both the House and Senate that would permanently repeal the rule. The Global Health, Empowerment and Rights (HER) Act, led by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Susan Collins (R-ME), is co-sponsored by more than 3 dozen Republican, Democratic and independent senators.

“I am proud to have bipartisan support for my legislation to repeal the Global Gag Rule for good. We know that the way to decrease unplanned pregnancies and abortions is to make birth control and family planning services accessible and affordable, not micromanage the type of medical information and reproductive health counseling that women around the world receive.” – Sen. Jeanne Shaheen

To learn more about the global gag rule, click here.