The Trump administration’s domestic gag policy is another anti-choice attack on the rights of women. “Domestic gag rule” is no misnomer; like its global predecessor, this new policy will force U.S. groups to make the same basic choice—between critical funding and providing essential care to women.
While we won’t have details of the policy until it is released, administration officials have suggested that it will force recipients of federal family planning funding to physically separate their abortion services from the services funded by Title X. That means 4 million people will be affected, many of whom are low-income women of color who utilize the Title X program to obtain family planning-related services. It is also expected that the rule will do away with a requirement that providers offer all options during pregnancy counseling and will ban referrals for abortions.
Though horrific, this policy comes as no surprise. Upon taking office in 2017, Trump immediately reinstated and expanded the global gag rule, forbidding organizations that receive U.S. global health funding from using their own private funds to provide information about abortion, referrals for abortion services, or to advocate for access to abortion services.
Both policies force an unnatural split between contraception and abortion services, which perversely results in increased unintended pregnancies, more unsafe abortions, and higher rates of maternal and newborn deaths. Both policies punish women in already-challenging circumstances by putting life-saving services out of reach. Both policies will increase fear and stigma of abortion, and both policies will force women—in the global south and here in the United States—to take unnecessary risks to end unwanted pregnancies.
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This administration’s expanded global gag rule, for example, affects $8.8 billion in foreign aid, but the policy has always undermined fundamental human rights, silenced advocates, and stifled partnerships. As outlined in Elite Daily, in Ethiopia under the George W. Bush iteration of the policy, “many organizations were afraid to join the debate and political process around efforts to change the abortion law in the country. Free speech was curbed and coalition building was nearly impossible …. In Kenya, [nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)] that were once vocal supporters of comprehensive reproductive health care for women abstained from debates on reforming the country’s restrictive abortion law. And even supportive officials in the Ministry of Health were effectively barred from collaborating with gagged NGOs to bring about law reform.”
Both policies add to existing restrictions. The Helms Amendment, passed in 1973, already prohibited the use of U.S. foreign assistance funds for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning. And the Hyde Amendment, first passed in 1976, functions as the U.S. domestic counterpart to the Helms Amendment and prohibits federal funds from covering abortion services.
While these policies purportedly aim to reduce abortion, in reality, they only serve to silence and “gag” anyone who has anything to do with it. The policies stigmatize a simple medical procedure by disconnecting it from other health care services and by forcing doctors not to offer women the whole array or reproductive options available to them, thus denying women accurate information to make their own health decisions. They are really about silencing, shaming, and stigmatizing women, especially low-income and marginalized women.
The new domestic gag is part of a broader assault by anti-choice advocates, who are now in a position of great power in the U.S. administration over the health, safety, and economic independence of women. Make no mistake, these are intimidation tactics designed to erode women’s human rights and agency.
The foundation of democracy is the individual and its driving force is power—who has it, who controls it, and how it is deployed. A fundamental aspect of our lives as individuals is our sexuality and our reproductive health. But, without the freedom to control and manage this aspect of our lives, we have little power over other aspects of our lives.
Sexual and reproductive rights, including the right to safe abortion, have been recognized by the global community as part of human rights in general. There are numerous international agreements and treaties that underpin this. Abortion is an indispensable part of sexual and reproductive health and rights, which are essential to women’s human rights, and which are, in turn, essential to a functioning democracy.
Globally, women’s human rights have been advancing—countries including Ethiopia, Nepal, Mozambique, and Chile have recognized the need to prevent women from dying due to unsafe abortion and have taken steps to liberalize their abortion laws. The Guttmacher-Lancet Commission on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights just published “Accelerate Progress,” a bold agenda to achieve universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, which recommends an essential package of related health interventions including safe abortion care. We also have the Sustainable Development Goals, 17 interconnected goals from the United Nations that form a universal call to action to end poverty and ensure peace and prosperity for all people. Goals focused on good health, equitable education, and gender equality include targets on sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights.
We have technology that safely allows women to take abortion into their own hands. Women can order abortion pills online, they can get text messages about how to use those pills, and what to do in case of a problem via apps on their phone.
But the Trump administration is pushing back against this tide of history, abroad and here in the United States. Forcing a woman—through legislation and policies—to continue an unintended and unwanted pregnancy is a violation of human rights. This domestic gag rule and the global gag rule are discriminatory, destructive, and downright wrong. We must continue to resist and persist.