The Global Gag Rule: Disturbing and cruel, with no regard for life

Selena Randhawa /
Jan 27, 2017 / Opinion

It’s been a week since the new president of the United States was inaugurated into office – and what a week it’s been.

From rolling back the affordable care act (sorry Obamacare) to signing an executive order to approve construction of the infamous wall, Trump has made his presence known. But can anyone blame him for wanting to make a big entrance? With his fixation on trying to convince us of how big his inauguration crowd was, the man is obviously trying to compensate for something.

But Trump reinstated a policy last week that was particularly disturbing. Just two days after millions of women across the world banded together in the name of human rights, Trump decided to strike back. In his true schoolyard bully form, Trump signed a brutal anti-abortion order directly effecting the most vulnerable in society: women and girls living in developing countries.

The Mexico City policy or the ‘global gag rule’ is a policy that restricts US funding to international non-government organisations (NGO) that provide abortion services, or even discuss abortion as a family planning option with patients.

Despite study after study showing that eliminating access to abortion services does not eliminate abortions, the global gag rule has been a policy fixture for Republican governments since 1984. But this time the terms were silently altered by Trump’s administration – expanding it to an unparalleled degree.

According to Population Action International (PAI), a global family planning advocacy organisation, Trump altered the policy to include all global health funding, not just family planning funding through USAID. This basically means that instead of it impacting $575 million of family planning funds, it will apply to close to $9.5 billion of global health funding. That’s 15 times more than previous years.

That’s a lot of money that will impact a lot of lives. And not just any lives – it will be the lives of vulnerable and impoverished women and girls, living in the most destitute conditions imaginable.

The policy will also greatly impact aid organisations like Marie Stopes International and Planned Parenthood. According to Marie Stopes, loss of their services alone could mean over 6 million unintended pregnancies, 2 million unsafe abortions and over 21,000 maternal deaths in Trump’s first term.

But the far-reaching implications of this policy are so much more than the stark quantitative data above. The global gag rule directly impacts a woman’s ability to obtain contraceptive and restricts access to basic STI screenings and sexual health exams.

When women do not have control over a basic right like their fertility, they cannot protect themselves. Unintended pregnancies and exposure to debilitating infections make it less likely for women to finish school, have a career and control the trajectory of their lives – forcing them to stay entrapped in a cycle of poverty.

Recently, a representative of the anti-abortion political advocacy group Susan B Anthony List told the Guardian: “President Trump’s immediate action to promote respect for all human life, including vulnerable unborn children abroad, as well as conscious rights, sends a strong signal about his administration’s pro-life priorities.”

Respect for all human life? Are we talking about the same policy?

Because nothing in my research suggests that the global gag rule has any consideration of the lives it will actually impact. It is masked under a pro-life policy but fails to acknowledge the countless women that will be subjected to potentially fatal circumstances due to this brutal law.

Furthermore, it is starving the most effective family planning providers in developing countries of resources they desperately need – resources that could literally mean life or death for the patients they serve. It is silencing advocates of abortion and reproduction rights in countries where women are still considered second-class citizens. And lastly, it is favouring ideological politics over the lives of women and children.

Unfortunately, the women that will be most impacted by this policy are hidden in parts of the world where they have little rights. They cannot march and protest against the injustices they face. They do not have the freedom to speak out against discrimination and sexism.

So we need to remember that this is so much more than pussy hats, funny memes and alternative facts. This is about understanding the consequences of an unjust policy. This is about the lives of millions of women and girls.

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Words by Selena Randhawa

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