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Commentary Law and Policy

Smoke and Mirrors: Ivanka Trump’s Trip to Latin America and the Global ‘Gag Rule’

Beirne Roose-Snyder

If Ivanka were serious about women’s economic empowerment, she would be actively advocating for legislation like the Global HER Act, which would permanently repeal the global gag rule.

Ivanka Trump traveled to Colombia, Argentina, and Paraguay this month to promote the White House’s Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative, a supposed “effort to advance global women’s economic empowerment.” While the media discussed Ivanka’s hairstyle and outfit choices, their focus would have been better served on her status as an advisor in a White House that attacks women’s rights around the world.

It’s no secret that women’s economic empowerment and bodily autonomy go hand-in-hand. A woman’s ability to decide when, if, and how many children she will have underpins every economic reality of her life. Yet Ivanka has not taken a public stance on abortion rights or addressed the Trump administration’s expansion of the global “gag rule,” a policy banning U.S. global health assistance to foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that perform or refer patients for abortion care. Her blind eye toward the administration’s brazen attacks on access to reproductive health care shows a level of tacit consent for the status quo that outweighs her concern for the future of women’s development and economic empowerment in Latin America.

The Trump administration has implemented a radical right-wing plan to dismantle laws that protect sexual and reproductive health and rights. An assessment of the government’s global health policies and funding for sexual and reproductive health and rights from my organization, the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE), found that in just one year, the United States dropped from a “B” to a “C” rating.

Research from Rutgers University Professor Yana Rodgers suggests that under previous iterations of the abortion restriction, women in Latin America were three times more likely to have an abortion. “The global gag rule causes more abortions, not fewer,” Rodgers said. “When the U.S. cuts off a critical stream of funding, some healthcare clinics in developing countries are forced to reduce staff or shut down altogether. This makes it harder for women living in those areas to get contraception. The result is more unintended pregnancies and more abortions.”

Other data has shown that unsafe abortions carry a higher financial and physical cost to women and households than safe, legal, and facility-based abortions. For example, they may have to use their entire savings or reduce expenses on other essential needs in order to pay for an abortion.

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The high cost to safe abortion under the Trump administration’s global gag rule means that economic barriers may force people with low incomes to delay their abortion or turn to unsafe methods, which carries higher economic and health costs.

The global gag rule also blocks funding for global development organizations that recognize that bodily autonomy and reproductive choice are necessary for women’s empowerment, even if they do not provide birth control or abortion themselves. As a result, many economic opportunities for women and young girls are affected. One young woman told a researcher that without the savings club and economic development organization she works with, which was disrupted by the global gag rule, “for me to buy one [menstrual] pad, I need to sleep with two men.”

As Ivanka Trump touts her supposed dedication to feminism and women’s empowerment, her father’s policies have continued to undermine her words, which are just that—words without action. The president’s expansion and extension of the global gag rule and attacks on sexual and reproductive health at the United Nations are not just political maneuvers to appease his domestic voter base—they are part of a larger agenda dedicated to eliminating the human rights framework in the United States that has reverberating effects across the globe.

In the context of the Trump administration’s relentless global attacks on women’s reproductive health and rights, Ivanka’s so-called leadership is both myopic and meaningless: Women’s economic empowerment is not possible without bodily and reproductive autonomy, and she seems happy to live in denial of this reality.

If Ivanka were serious about women’s economic empowerment, she would be actively advocating for legislation like the Global HER Act, which would permanently repeal the global gag rule. If Ivanka spoke out against the global gag rule, it could be a critical first step toward halting its pervasive effects and beginning the process of mending the fractured global health infrastructure it leaves in its wake.

Focusing on what Ivanka wears and how her hair looks do not help anyone. In fact, it allows her and the Trump administration to sweep under the rug the reality that the global gag rule and other international initiatives jeopardize reproductive health care globally and undermine the economic opportunity for women and girls around the world.

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