The ‘global gag rule’ strips funding from vital reproductive services around the world. For many women, that will mean a return to life-threatening practices
In the mass of protesters thronging the National Mall in Washington DC on Saturday, one sign stood out to me. It was a wire clothes hanger mounted on cardboard, held by a young woman of color in pigtails. “Never again,” it read.
As it turns out, for poor women overseas, never was only as far away as Monday.
Donald Trump used his first full day as president to reinstate a Reagan-era executive order that will have a devastating impact on those with the fewest resources: women and girls in impoverished parts of the word. The order, best known as the “global gag rule,” will strip funding from any international NGO that provides abortions services, or even discusses abortion with patients seeking educational materials or referrals.
Study upon study has shown eliminating access to abortion services doesn’t eliminate abortions, it just forces women underground into dangerous situations.
For a guy who has been billed as a populist, it’s perhaps surprising that having roughly half a million people – three times the number that attended his inauguration – flood the streets of Washington has done nothing to alter his policy.
It did, however, do something else: it hurt the president’s feelings.
Trump’s defining qualities as a child, according to multiple biographers I spoke with, is that of a schoolyard bully. And it’s the rare thing about him that hasn’t changed. That’s why the fact that he dedicated one of his first acts in office to undermining the rights of women seems to me like something close to tit for tat.
Because Trump has been outspoken with regard to the other executive orders he signed off on Monday – instituting a federal hiring freeze, and withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. But he hasn’t made a point of talking about abortion access unless asked. While it’s true executive’s implementation of the “global gag rule” has historically been reversed as soon as the opposite party takes over the White House, previous proponents – Ronald Reagan and George W Bush – ran on platforms of social conservatism. Trump was less easy to pin down. As he told Howard Stern of his stance on abortion in 2013: “it’s never been my big issue.”
Trump seemed to have outsourced the question to his running mate Mike Pence, a staunch anti-abortion advocate whose selection by Trump was widely seen as a peace offering to evangelical voters alienated by Trump’s lifestyle. The peace offering workedand Trump won evangelicals in a landslide.
But illusions Trump would, as he put it in a fleeting election night gesture, “be the president of everybody,” just went out the window. “The president, it’s no secret, has made it very clear he’s a pro-life president,” his spokesman Sean Spicer said in the first White House press briefing. “He wants to stand up for all Americans including the unborn.”
It’s quite the way to describe the gutting of a policy that’s spared an estimated 289,000 women from pregnancy- or childbirth-related deaths, according to the World Health Organization.
And it’s not just about abortion. Service providers denied funding under the gag rule could be stripped of the ability to carry out even the most basic women’s healthcare, as global family planning group Population Action International (PAI) has previously reported, resulting in the collapse of entire healthcare networks. WHO estimates 21 million unsafe abortions are performed globally each year, resulting in nearly 13% of all maternal deaths globally. And Marie Stopes International, a major global family planning advocacy group, estimates the loss of its services alone could mean 6.5 million unintended pregnancies, 2.1 million unsafe abortions, and 21,700 maternal deaths in Trump’s first term alone.
PAI puts it even starker terms: “The only goal the policy will achieve is to punish women in already challenging circumstances by blocking access to essential care.”
If Trump’s desire to “punish” women sounds familiar, that’s because, well, it should. In March of last year he said those seeking abortions should endure “some form of punishment” for doing so. And while yes, he walked back his tone-deaf statement in the explosive political aftermath, his actions Monday spoke louder than words.
Source: The Guardian