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Democrats Challenge Trump’s ‘Global Gag Rule’ Expansion

Christine Grimaldi

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) introduced the Global Health, Empowerment, and Rights (HER) Act a day after Trump, surrounded by men, signed the sweeping executive order in one of his first acts as president.

Congressional Democrats introduced bicameral legislation Tuesday to permanently repeal President Trump’s reinstatement and expansion of the “global gag rule,” an anti-choice policy prohibiting U.S. foreign aid to organizations that provide abortion care abroad with their own funds.

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) introduced the Global Health, Empowerment, and Rights (HER) Act in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate, respectively, a day after Trump, surrounded by men, signed the sweeping executive order in one of his first acts as president.

Although repealing the global gag rule isn’t likely to advance in the Republican-controlled Congress, the Global HER Act marks a cohesive effort among Democrats in the early days of Trump’s presidency to push back against legislative assaults on reproductive health care.

Lowey and other members of the House Pro-Choice Caucus challenged the rule and other anti-choice agenda items, including a congressional GOP push to codify the Hyde Amendment, at a Capitol Hill press conference.

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“President Trump said he would put ‘America First’ in his inaugural address. He and House Republicans aren’t putting ‘America First’ by playing politics with women’s health instead of healing our divided nation and working toward better health care and more good jobs,” Lowey said as she announced the Global HER Act.

“He isn’t putting ‘America First’ by preventing capable partners around the world from providing comprehensive health care to vulnerable women. He isn’t putting America first by making our foreign assistance less effective, which will cost us more to achieve the same results in maternal and child health. And President Trump isn’t putting ‘America First’ by diminishing America’s leadership role in the world.”

Reproductive rights advocates had anticipated Trump’s reinstatement of the Reagan-era rule, also known as the “Mexico City policy,” a political seesaw that rises and falls with which party controls White House.

Serra Sippel, president of the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE), had warned that under Trump, the global gag rule could go “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.”

Trump’s version makes what previous Republican presidents ordered appear tamer by comparison.

The new global gag rule applies not only to foreign nongovernmental offices, but also to all global health funding, raising the impact on U.S. foreign aid from $600 million to $9.5 billion, Slate’s Michelle Goldberg reported. “Organizations working on AIDS, malaria, or maternal and child health will have to make sure that none of their programs involves so much as an abortion referral,” wrote Goldberg. Multiple outlets reported that the rule could also jeopardize funding for groups working to combat Zika.

Even George W. Bush’s President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) won’t be exempt. Bush’s global gag rule had spared PEPFAR, Goldberg noted, “because it was widely understood that the program couldn’t meet its prevention and treatment targets otherwise … although applying the global gag rule to PEPFAR’s programs ill affects millions of men as well.”

Speaking about the magnitude of Trump’s action, Scott Evertz, former director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy under Bush, told Goldberg that he “would not necessarily be surprised if it were a reaction to the women’s marches.”

Expect fights for and against the global gag rule to continue on Capitol Hill.

Shaheen previously introduced legislation to permanently repeal the rule, then and now garnering two Republican co-sponsors: Sens. Susan Collins (ME) and Lisa Murkowski (AK).

Congressional Republicans could still attempt to enshrine it into federal law through the appropriations process, as they tried, and failed, to do in the Senate’s fiscal year 2017 State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs bill.

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