The Global Gag Rule is like a cartoon character, no sooner squashed by a falling boulder than it emerges from under the rock that fell on it and goes on its un-merry way, leaving destruction in its path. It was instituted by Ronald Reagan in 1984, overturned by Bill Clinton, reinstated by George W. Bush, overturned by Barack Obama and now has been reinstated by Donald Trump.
Previous versions of the Global Gag Rule, or Mexico City Policy, prohibited U.S. providers of foreign contraceptive aid from using their own funding to providing abortion counseling, services or referrals — even in countries where abortion is legal. Organizations were also prohibited from advocating to decriminalize abortion. Trump’s new “super gag rule” takes the unprecedented step of extending the rule to “all global health assistance,” jeopardizing as much as $9 billion in federal aid for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, Zika, children’s health and other life-saving programs.
But here’s the most insidious part of the rule: Organizations were already prohibited from using U.S. funding for abortion-related services and advocacy, thanks to the 1973 Helms Amendment. The Gag Rule takes the harmful and unnecessary step of dictating what organizations can or can’t spend the rest of their budgets on.
The Global Gag Rule restricts medical professionals in economically developing countries from giving impartial medical advice to their patients, denying them information about avoiding risks and prohibiting informed decisionmaking by women about childbearing. On Monday, the International Planned Parenthood Federation/Western Hemisphere Region, which oversees sexual and reproductive health programs in the Americas and Caribbean, affirmed that it will not sign the Gag Rule, stating that “Putting a ‘gag order’ on local providers who know the specific laws and needs of their communities is arrogant and flies in the face of common sense and reason.”
The fact is: The Global Gag Rule has been shown to increase abortions worldwide. When the U.S. cuts off the supply of contraceptives, many people in the developing world are forced to go without them. Abortion rates in Sub-Saharan Africa more than doubled after George W. Bush reinstated the Gag Rule.
The Guttmacher Institute found that in 2016, U.S. funding for contraceptives prevented more than 2 million unsafe abortions and 6 million unintended pregnancies, and helped prevent 11,000 maternal deaths worldwide. The Trump-Pence Administration simply ignores the obvious truth that contraception reduces abortions; bans don’t.
Does the President care? No. His aim is to punish women and organizations that serve them — because we stand up for the right to impartial information and dignified and voluntary medical services, including safe abortion. Over the weekend, I marched side-by-side with millions of women across the world to affirm that women’s rights are human rights. Men must stand in solidarity with women to oppose this rule. We cannot abide by a policy that denies a basic human right and puts women’s lives at risk.
Sanger, the grandson of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger, is the current chair of the International Planned Parenthood Council. He was the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood-New York City for 10 years.