Trump Revives Global Anti-Abortion Order—and Makes It an Even More Deadly Weapon Against Women

Updated January 26, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper |


This article was originally posted on January 23, the day Trump signed the order on the global gag rule. Since then, more has come out about what Trump’s order means, and we have updated the article.

One of the main facets of the Trump-Pence fascist program is a major ramping up of attacks on women, and in particular the right to abortion. On Monday, Trump took the first official step of the regime in this war on women by signing an executive order that restored an anti-abortion measure with global effect. Known as the “Mexico City policy” (because it was first implemented under Ronald Reagan at a 1984 UN conference in that city), the measure denies U.S. family planning funding and technical assistance to foreign NGOs—including clinics, private hospitals, and reproductive health and family planning organizations—that perform or “promote” abortions.

This policy is also known as the “global gag rule” because it prohibits the NGOs that receive U.S. funding from even discussing abortion as an option or referring women to an abortion provider. And the rule also bans those groups from advocating for greater access in general to abortion in those countries.

When the global gag rule first went into effect, there was already a ban on the use of U.S. foreign aid for abortions—and this ban continues. What the global gag rule does is to expand the anti-abortion dictates by imposing U.S. control over how the NGOs use their own funds raised from sources other than U.S. aid. It forced many public health and family planning organizations, especially in poor countries, that depend greatly on outside funding to make a choice: stop performing or even advocating for abortion, which is crucial for women’s health and their lives overall—or continue this vital service but lose significant amounts of funding that support other important medical services they provide.

But what is starting to become clear is that Trump is not just restoring the global gag rule that existed before, as bad as that was. Trump’s executive order actually pushes this forward in a qualitatively worse direction. In a January 25 online piece for The New Yorker, writer Margaret Talbot wrote:

Trump’s version is a radically expanded one, as reporters have begun to notice. In the past, foreign N.G.O.s had to accept the conditions set out by the Mexico City Policy in order to get funds from two stipulated sources: U.S.A.I.D. and, after 2003, the U.S. State Department. But Trump’s version extends the requirement to global aid furnished by all U.S. governmental departments and agencies. This is both sweeping and, in the Trumpian way, very confusing to the people trying to do their jobs in the federal government. It could potentially affect an enormous range of health activities that the United States government engages in around the world, including work combatting H.I.V. and many other infectious diseases, and promoting maternal and child nutrition. In 2003, when George W. Bush broadened the rule to cover State Department aid, he made a point of exempting global H.I.V./AIDS programs. But Trump’s version offers no exceptions. “The government agencies are still scrambling to figure out what this means,” Sneha Barot, a policy analyst with the Guttmacher Institute, told me. “There have been no official guidelines issued. But this is not the global gag rule we know. This is a whole new policy.”

Under President Reagan and again under the two Bushes, the global gag rule had real—often deadly—consequences for women. Groups like Population Action International (PAI) have documented how it led to more women in poor countries having unwanted pregnancies or dying from unsafe abortions. Worldwide, 68,000 women die each year from complications from trying to end pregnancies unsafely—using materials like turpentine or bleach, with blows to the stomach, or in unsterile procedures carried out by incompetent practitioners. The closing of health clinics or reduction in their services limited or closed off people’s access to contraceptives and to health care for wide range of problems from malaria to HIV/AIDS.

Obama struck down the Mexico City policy with an executive order at the beginning of his first term. Trump has now revived the global gag rule, and it will have devastating consequences for women around the world. In a statement on Trump’s executive order, PAI said:

Trump’s Global Gag Rule will not only severely restrict access to legal abortion, but will also have more insidious and damaging effect on women’s health overall. Health care providers will be forced to cut services, increase fees, and even close clinics altogether as a result of severe funding cuts. There are 225 million women in developing countries who want to avoid pregnancy but are not using modern contraception, but this policy will put birth control even farther from their reach…

“Trump’s Global Gag Rule will obstruct and destroy the work of health care providers who are often women’s main—and sometimes only—source for reproductive health care, and their entry point for receiving a wide range of primary health care services," said Suzanne Ehlers, President & CEO of PAI. “To be clear, this policy is an attack on women’s bodily autonomy and freedom, and we will see an increase in unintended pregnancies and unsafe abortions as a result.”

The Talbot piece from The New Yorker gives an example of how Trump’s global gag rule will affect women around the world:

I spoke with Banchi Dessalegn, who is the director of Marie Stopes International’s operations in Ethiopia. “Seventy per cent of the women we’re serving with our U.S. government dollars are women who have no education at all; they’ve never been to school,” she told me. These women live in remote rural areas, survive on subsistence farming, and give birth, on average, to six or seven children each. The funding that Dessalegn’s organization received from U.S.A.I.D. allowed her workers to travel to these villages—“six or seven hours each way, dusty roads, huts”—and call together meetings of men and of women in which they offered information about where to get and how to use contraception; the N.G.O. also provided tubal ligations and vasectomies for those who wanted them. Ethiopia has a high maternal death rate—four hundred and twenty women out of each hundred thousand die as a result of pregnancy-related complications like hemorrhages and sepsis—and the more children a woman already has, the more likely she is to die in childbirth. Dessalegn felt that she and her colleagues were doing a good deal to turn that around. “That is what we are so afraid will be compromised now,” she said.

* * * * *

While Trump is now bringing back a previous Republican anti-abortion policy that had been canceled by Democrats, this is not just a “swing of the pendulum.” As we have written about the events of the last couple of days, “the Trump-Pence regime made chillingly clear its determination to radically and quickly reorder the current form of political rule in the U.S. into fascism” (from “Lives in the Balance... Which Will Win? Trump’s First Days: The Heavy Hand of Fascism and the Spark of Resistance”) With the executive order on the Mexico City policy, Trump is firing the opening shot in a major component of this fascist reordering of political rule, the overturning of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. It’s a rallying cry for the Christian fascists' fighting forces who want to see Roe v. Wade, in the words of Trump’s VP, Mike Pence, “consigned to the scrap heap of history.”

This is not about the health of women or to “protect life” or any other falsehoods used as justification by the anti-abortion fanatics. The real objective is to greatly intensify patriarchal control over women—to turn women into nothing more than incubators and sexual playthings for men—under the signboard of “make America great again.”

This is a horrible vision and program that the fascist regime is now moving quickly to forcibly implement—and it must be stopped by massive resistance of millions, acting in the interests of humanity.



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