Commentary Law and Policy

A Trump Gag Rule Has No Place in 2017

Serra Sippel

Acknowledging the importance of investing in the well-being of women and girls, the world has evolved dramatically over the past three decades when it comes to reproductive health and rights, and so should U.S. foreign policy.

Women’s health and rights are—not surprisingly—expected to be among the first casualties of the Trump administration. Advocates, journalists, and policymakers alike anticipate that President-elect Trump will announce his “global gag rule” during the first week, if not on his first day, in office.

The global gag rule (also known as the “Mexico City policy”) prohibits nongovernmental organizations across the globe that receive U.S. family planning funds from advocating for or even discussing abortion, let alone providing abortion services as a method of family planning. In the past, it has not prohibited activities around abortion in the cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment.

Since the global gag rule took effect in 1984, it has been understood that Republican administrations will impose the restrictive policy and Democratic administrations will rescind it. This ping-pong should not be acceptable; the global gag rule should not be “business as usual.”

Some, including myself, are concerned that a Trump gag rule will extend beyond restricting international family planning funds and be applied to U.S. funding of other key issues, including HIV prevention, maternal health, humanitarian projects, and education. What makes the Trump gag rule—whatever Machiavellian shape it takes—particularly egregious is that it will be built on an already outdated and failed policy from the ’80s.

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Over the last 30 years, the world has borne witness to the costly effect of the global gag rule—when enacted—on women and girls. From blocking access to contraception and safe abortion, to setting the clock back on HIV prevention and health-care access in rural communities, this policy betrays women and girls at every turn.

Acknowledging the importance of investing in the well-being of women and girls, the world has evolved dramatically over the past three decades when it comes to reproductive health and rights, and so should U.S. foreign policy.

Since 1984, we have seen major shifts in global agreements that embrace sexual and reproductive health and rights just as donor governments have increased investments globally. During this time, we have seen an increase in access to family planning and a decrease in maternal and infant deaths.

Furthermore, from Colombia to Uruguay, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Malaysia, Cambodia, and Pakistan, more than 40 countries across the globe have liberalized abortion laws.

Despite the facts, the Trump gag rule will not follow science, evidence, or public health best practices. It will not make U.S. investments in global women’s health more effective and efficient. It will not assist countries with improving access to health care for women and girls.

What it will be is a deadly attack on women and girls globally.

There is no place for a Trump gag rule in 2017, and that is why we cannot accept this as a given. Congress must stand up. Advocates must stand up. Global health and development groups must stand up and speak out.

For too long, too many development and global health groups have stood on the sidelines of acceptance. Those days are over. Women and girls worldwide may be the first casualties of this administration with a Trump gag rule, but make no mistake, that is just the beginning.

President-elect Trump and his attacks on women will hit us all whether we advocate on climate change, peace and security, human rights, or girls’ education and empowerment. All of the issues we care about are at risk of funding cuts and harmful policies. And, that’s why it will take all of us to stand up and speak out.

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