Commentary Human Rights

Trump’s War on Women Knows No Borders

Kathleen Turner

On International Women's Day, let's note that our president's disregard for women extends to his global health policies.

News outlets recently reported that U.S. State Department officials have been instructed to trim passages that focus on reproductive rights and gender- and race-based discrimination in an annual global human rights report.

It’s 2018, and somehow the Trump administration still hasn’t gotten the memo that human rights do, in fact, apply to the half of the human population called women.

But this State Department news is, unfortunately, anything but isolated. It is part and parcel of a vigorous Trump administration effort to undermine women’s health both here and abroad.

Domestically, the administration has filled top positions with women’s rights opponents and has taken dramatic steps to harm women’s health, from rolling back a rule protecting birth control coverage to blocking multiple immigrant teenage girls from accessing needed care.

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President Trump has also taken his campaign against women’s health care global. His willingness to undermine the quality of women’s health care worldwide is threatening lives—most glaringly through a sweeping expansion of what’s known as the global gag rule, an anti-choice policy prohibiting U.S. foreign aid to organizations that provide abortion care abroad with their own funds.

In past versions of this policy under Presidents Reagan and Bush, foreign nonprofit organizations that provided or even discussed abortion lost access to millions of dollars in U.S. family planning funding.  Trump expanded the scope of the rule to cover about $9.5 billion in any kind of global health funding, more than a 15-fold increase.

The effects of this cruel policy extend far beyond abortion. Clinics in developing countries that provide a range of health services, like treatment for tuberculosis or vaccinations for babies, are seeing their funding slashed. It’s a move that health groups say is devastating, with the Associated Press reporting that it “has left impoverished women around the world without treatment for HIV, malaria, and other diseases.” A Kenyan health-care organization that has already been forced to close one of its clinics said of the expanded rule: “We’ve been given a death sentence.”

This inhumane policy shift was a gift from Trump to the U.S. religious right, whose leaders pushed hard for a reinstatement of the global gag rule before he even took office. Influential right-wing organizations like the Family Research Council and March for Life have been itching to see this assault on women’s health put back in place, and Trump delivered in his first week in office.

As if that weren’t bad enough, Trump’s latest budget proposal slashes funding for global health and reproductive rights, including contraception that prevents unintended pregnancies and maternal deaths around the world. And, in 2017, the Trump administration selected figures from virulently anti-choice organizations to represent the nation at what the State Department called “the most important annual meeting on women’s issues at the United Nations.”

While Trump’s war on women’s health is in full force here in the United States, we shouldn’t let that overshadow its devastating impact abroad. The administration has proven that it is willing to carry out the wish lists of extreme right-wing organizations—even at the expense of the health and lives of some of the world’s most marginalized women.

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