One year ago, on the heels of the largest day of protest in US history and a truly global moment of solidarity on women’s rights, the newly inaugurated president resurrected and radically expanded the harmful global gag rule, a policy that puts politics between a patient and her provider.
It’s no coincidence that the first casualties in the administration’s assault on human rights were women. And, as his vile comments on immigration last week make quite clear, it’s no coincidence that many of the women affected by this devastating policy come from countries he has denigrated with racist and offensive rhetoric. Maybe attacking them was precisely his aim, to send a message that regardless of the human costs, it’s America first. Or perhaps he felt that they were a safe target, that nobody would care about a few million Black and Brown women overseas.
To add insult to injury, the administration went further than any previous Republican administration by expanding the global gag rule’s application to all global health funding, not just family planning as previous versions had done. This means that a clinic receiving U.S. funding for HIV/AIDS treatment may lose that funding if they provide, counsel on, or even share information about abortion, even if they do so with their own funds.
This policy would prove to be the first in several sustained attacks on women around the world by this administration. The FY 2018 budget proposal released by the White House a few months later introduced significant cuts to foreign aid, including eliminating all funding for international family planning programs. The administration has also advanced a baseless, politically driven attack on UNFPA, the United Nations lead agency on family planning and maternal health, banning the agency from receiving any U.S. funding, even in the most dire humanitarian and crisis settings.
Most recently, the president withdrew temporary protected status (TPS) for nearly 200,000 people from El Salvador. Just the latest in a long line of countries he has revoked TPS for, this recent move is particularly harmful for women who must return to a country where rates of gender-based violence is high and abortion is not just illegal, but criminalized. The abortion laws in El Salvador are so draconian that even women who have natural miscarriages have been imprisoned. Last year, one woman who had been imprisoned in El Salvador for exactly that was granted asylum in Sweden, the first time such status has been conferred for abortion persecution.
The attacks on women have been relentless and global in nature. But so, too, has been the resistance. We made phone calls, we wrote letters, we introduced legislation, we challenged opponents of women’s health, and yes, we marched. Through the #MeToo movement, which Tarana Burke started long before it was a hashtag, women shared their intimate stories of sexual violence. The movement has gone global, with women in China, India, and other countries sharing their own stories. In Latin America, reproductive rights advocates have made some landmark strides in the liberalization of abortion laws, as in the case of Chile, which approved a bill relaxing the abortion ban for the first time in over two decades. In Uganda, our partner Reproductive Health Uganda (RHU) is speaking out about the harmful impact the global gag rule is having on vital services that RHU and other organizations provide in the country. Planned Parenthood has been working with our partners in D.C. and around the world as well as with our allies in Congress to successfully resist efforts to codify the global gag rule and cuts to international family planning – but the fight continues.
One year ago on Monday, January 23, following the vim and vigor of the Women’s March, the president took a pen and signed a death warrant for millions of women around the world. He tried to silence them, to silence us. We won’t be gagged and we certainly won’t be silent.
Latanya Mapp Frett is the Executive Director of Planned Parenthood Global, the international arm of Planned Parenthood Federation of America