THE BLOG

The Global Gag Rule: A Political Game With Severe Consequences For Women's Lives

24/01/2017 09:07 GMT | Updated 24/01/2017 09:46 GMT
Evan Vucci/AP

President Trump's rush to reinstate of the Mexico City Policy (aka the Global Gag rule), which directs the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to withhold USAID funds from NGOs that engage in a wide range of abortion related activity should not be a shock. It's hardly a surprise that Trump is no progressive, and in re-applying the gag he is simply following a tradition whereby Republican administrations adopt the policy and Democratic administrations rescind it.

The Global Gag rule was enacted by Republican President Ronald Reagan in 1984, although the policy has it's roots in the period immediately post Roe v Wade, when overseas organisations were banned from "promoting abortion as a method of family planning". Democratic President Bill Clinton untied the Gag in January 1993. It was reinstated in January 2001 as Republican President George W. Bush took office, and rescinded on January 23, 2009, three days after Democratic President Barack Obama took office.

It's a political game, played by administrations, that has severe consequences for women's lives. USAID is a massive sponsor of international family planning programmes, including International Planned Parenthood Federation and Marie Stopes International, and millions of women rely on these NGOs and on organisations like them, for far more than family planning methods. In some areas of the Global South, they are the only health care structure that exists. The last time the Global Gag was applied other donors were mobilised to help fill the funding gap. This time it's doubtful that many of them can scale up in the same way. Many European governments are already under pressure to cut overseas aid.

The action shows the extent to which abortion is seen, not as a fundamental healthcare necessity for women, but as a plaything for politicians who want to posture and demonstrate their traditional, conservative commitments.

Those of us who believe that women should be able to decide for themselves how to plan their families; those of us who see abortion as a legitimate and necessary part of healthcare; and, who believe that the morals and values of women throughout the world should be decided by them individually and not dictated by funders, need to raise our voices now.

It's not just Trump who is the problem. Every donor who refuses to accept that abortion IS a necessary part of health care, and cannot be set apart from other methods of birth control, must be challenged. Abortion is integral to family planning because, although it is not always possible to prevent pregnancy, with the right skills and equipment, it is almost always possible to end pregnancy safely. Creating an expectation that women should plan families but denying them safe ways to do it, is simply, immoral. Abortion is a necessary back-up to contraception for a woman to have confidence that sex will not result in a baby. It's simple to understand, and just as simple to provide - when politics doesn't get in the way.‎

So when we are condemning Trump for denying funding for abortion, let's bear in mind that his approach is not novel. The Melinda Gates Foundation is just one of many donors that one might expect to be sympathetic to women's needs - but also refuses to fund abortion-related projects around the world. To be fair to Mrs Gates, unlike Reagan, Bush and Trump, she doesn't deny her funded NGOs the right to accept abortion-funding from elsewhere - but she does give credence to their idea that abortion is unnecessary and wrong. As did President Obama when he dropped abortion from his healthcare reform.

Politicians will only stop treating abortion as a separate and negotiable part of healthcare when we stop allowing them to do it.

Yes, we should rail against Trump - but we save some ire for those who we might expect to do better, and who we might now expect to review their own prejudices to distance themselves from him.