Republicans Should Hate Trump’s Global Gag Rule

A woman and child in Bangladesh, courtesy of UN Photo.

Amidst the frenzied media potpourri of James Comey, cyberattacks, and North Korea, it’s completely understandable that everyone may not be aware of the recent news of President Trump’s plans to extend the Global Gag Rule. I was absolutely not aware of it until I actively went out looking for some recent news and information on Trump’s current social policy plans.

If you don’t know what the Global Gag Rule is, here’s the rundown: The Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE), says that the Global Gag Rule (also known as the Mexico City Rule) “stipulates that non U.S. nongovernmental organizations receiving U.S. family planning funding cannot inform the public or educate their government on the need to make safe abortion available, provide legal abortion services, or provide advice on where to get an abortion.” The policy has a storied, tumultuous presidential history. The rule was introduced under Reagan’s administration in 1984, rescinded by Clinton in 1993, reintroduced by Bush in 2001, rescinded by Obama in 2009, and finally reintroduced after Trump’s inauguration.

The logic behind the policy is relatively self explanatory: pro-lifers ostensibly attempt to prevent abortion globally by defunding the organizations that may make them accessible or inform people on their existence. The cruel reality of the policy, though, reveals a future that is about as anti-life — and anti-Republican– as it gets.

Before even getting into the obvious human rights implications of the policy, let’s examine its legal and constitutional flaws. According to Engender Health, the Global Gag Rule makes it so that “doctors, midwives, and nurses could not even mention the word abortion — much less provide abortion services with their own funds — even if it was legal in their country, or if a woman asks. Organizations that did not meet this condition lost all U.S. funding, including essential supplies of contraceptives.” Our country exists as the world’s greatest democracy through our commitment to constantly promoting the principle of free speech and expression. That commitment should not be contingent upon circumstance, and should apply to every policy that the United States partakes in — including its foreign policy. As noted by Mark Joseph Stern, the Gag Rule is a clear contravention of the 2013 Supreme Court decision Agency for International Development v. Alliance for Open Society International, which deemed it unconstitutional under the statutes of the First Amendment for the federal government to to require that “non-governmental organizations institute an explicit anti-prostitution policy in order to receive federal funding.” Replace prostitution with abortion and you’ve got the Global Gag Rule.

Even above its clear lack of constitutionality, though, the Global Gag Rule poses hideous consequences for women, girls, and children throughout the globe. While the rule has proved ineffectual in actually preventing abortions (in fact, experts have said that it will actually cause more abortions), it is wholly effective in making poor people sick. Research has shown that in the most recent period in the law’s history (between Bush and Obama), twenty developing countries lost access to contraceptive devices donated by the U.S., and many health facilities and clinics had to reduce staff or shutdown and halt operation entirely. Consequently, thousands of women lost such facilities’ services (many of which were the only facilities available to them), which included contraception, HIV/AIDS, Zika, and malaria treatment and prevention, STD treatment, and prenatal and child care, among other things.

A sex education class in Darfur, courtesy of UNHCR.

But the reason I’m talking about this right now is because Trump signed an executive order going into effect today that extends the limits of the Global Gag Rule, which previously capped actions of the policy to $600 million in family planning money, to an exponentially larger maximum of $9 billion. The effects of this new Global Gag Rule on steroids will be nothing short of calamitous. Human Rights Watch outlines the consequences in a comprehensive list, stating that Trump’s reinterpretation of the policy will:

  • Be undermining progress on health outcomes instead of supporting improvements.
  • Women and girls in about 60 low and middle-income countries will have less access to contraception, resulting in more unintended pregnancies, and more — often unsafe — abortions.
  • The restrictions will lead to an increase in maternal deaths, both due to unsafe abortion and to an increase in unplanned pregnancies in places where rates of maternal mortality are already high.
  • Health programs that lose US funding may have to cut services linked to newborn, infant and child health, including vaccinations; prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS, malaria, and TB; and nutrition programs.
  • The restriction makes needed health funds the instrument to curtail the speech and activities of activists and health providers in other countries, preventing them from sharing health information about abortion or discussing potential reforms to abortion laws without losing their US funds.
Trump signing the Global Gag Rule executive order, courtesy of Jim Watson for Getty Images via New York Magazine.

So in sum, conservatives –especially those of the vehemently pro-life variety– should hate this policy more than anyone. It is intrinsically antithetical to the core principles of the Constitution, is fundamentally anti-life (because people get sick and die as a result of its institution), and actually works to promote abortion. As someone who has vacillated on abortion in the past and is in no way of the unequivocally anti-Republican at all times school of thought, this bill is toxically hypocritical, and the facts of the law are simply incompatible with the ideals of American conservatism. If pro-lifers or Republicans rush to the defense of this piece of draconian legislation, it will reveal something: that their allegiance is in fact not to their principles, but merely to the man they believe represents them.

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