The newly released details of President Trump’s expanded “global gag rule” have lived up to advocates’ dire expectations.
Sec. Rex Tillerson’s U.S. Department of State on Monday approved the “Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance” plan, which prohibits all global health assistance, not just family planning funding, from organizations that provide abortion care abroad with their own funds. Under the new framework, the State Department, USAID, and the U.S. Department of Defense are subject to the restrictions with narrow exceptions for their humanitarian assistance efforts.
The guidelines effectively hamstring $8.8 billion—“nearly 15 times as large as the George W. Bush-era Global Gag Rule,” according to the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR).
“President Trump’s expansion of the Global Gag Rule is a major assault on those who serve the world’s poorest and most vulnerable women,” CRR President and CEO Nancy Northup said in a statement.
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“This policy does not protect life. It jeopardizes the lives of countless women by withholding critical information and access to the full range of reproductive health care.”
Serra Sippel, president of the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE), warned in January that a Trump gag rule has no place in 2017.
“Our worst fears came to light on Monday,” Sippel said in a phone interview.
“This is not based in evidence, it’s not based in global health.”
Historically, the global gag rule is associated with an increase in abortions. Stanford University researchers in 2011 found that abortion rates spiked in 20 sub-Saharan African countries under the George W. Bush version.
Trump initially signed the executive order reinstating and expanding the global gag rule in a photo op that featured only white men. That the administration gave an exclusive on the guidelines to a conservative Christian news site during Women’s Health Week only widened the gulf between words and actions in an administration that pays lip service to so-called women’s rights while actively undermining them.
The timing did not go unnoticed on Capitol Hill.
“The Trump Administration’s new, expanded global gag rule will undermine global health efforts and the reproductive freedom and economic security of women worldwide—and it makes President Trump’s blatantly false statement about concern for women’s health, issued just one day ago, all the more insulting and ridiculous,” Sen. Patty Murray (WA), the top Democrat on the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, said in a statement.
The lead sponsors of the Global Health, Empowerment, and Rights (HER) Act in the U.S. House of Representatives called on Congress to pass the permanent repeal of the “vicious, anti-woman policy.”
“President Trump has shown he cannot be trusted to lead in the global fight for women’s human rights and dignity,” Reps. Nita Lowey, Eliot Engel, and Louise Slaughter—Democrats from New York—said in a statement with California Democrat Rep. Barbara Lee.
The full breadth of the consequences is still emerging.
Outlets have reported that the new rule could jeopardize funding for groups working to combat the Zika virus. Trump didn’t even spare George W. Bush’s President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Bush’s global gag rule had exempted PEPFAR, Slate’s Michelle Goldberg reported, “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.”
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organization, slammed “another reckless move by the Trump Administration designed to cynically please his extremist base without regard for consequences.”
“This egregious expansion puts millions more lives at risk, including those living with HIV and AIDS,” HRC Senior Vice President for Policy and Political Affairs JoDee Winterhof said in a statement. “Withholding U.S. aid as a tool to limit anyone’s access to health is simply un-American and stands in direct opposition to our country’s role as a global leader for democracy and human rights.”
Sippel urged people to contact their lawmakers in support of the HER Act or comparable measures.
“We have data and evidence today that we did not have in 2001, the last time this came into place,” Sippel said. “I think we can get members of Congress to move on this if they’re presented with the evidence.”