In one of his first actions in the White House, US President Donald Trump has signed an order that could restrict women across the world access to safe abortion.
American money helps 27 million women access contraceptives, with the US Government spending about $600 million a year on international assistance for family planning and reproductive health.
The new President reinstated the Mexico City policy as one of his first moves in the White House.
The policy enforces a ban on providing federal money to international groups that perform abortions or promote the option.
That means any US federally-funded aid group or other non-government organisation can’t assist with, recommend, give advice or provide any information when it comes to the emergency termination method.
The decision to reinstate — and significantly expand — the Republican policy known as the “Mexico City policy,” or the “global gag rule,” was delivered a day after the 44th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion and two days after the Women’s March on Washington and similar events across the country drew crowds to rally for reproductive rights, among other issues.
The new policy would prohibit any federal aid to foreign organizations that provide or promote abortion. In the past, the policy only applied to organizations that got family planning funding. Now, it will apply to organizations that get global health money, potentially including maternal health programs, anti-Zika efforts and the expansive PEPFAR program to stop HIV/AIDS.
“The intent is to extend the policy to apply not just to family planning assistance but to global health, including PEPFAR and maternal health,” said Jennifer Kates, vice president and director of global health and HIV policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, who added that the full scope of the policy isn’t yet known. She estimated that when the policy has been applied in the past, it covered about $600 million in foreign aid spending. The new policy could potentially cover up to $8 billion.
“Not only has President Trump reinstated the Mexico City Policy, he’s modernized it by applying it to all foreign health assistance programs,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony List, a leading anti-abortion group.
The policy has been instituted by every Republican president since Ronald Reagan and rescinded by Democratic presidents. It prohibits NGOs that receive federal funding — including health care providers or organizations — from providing or promoting abortion or from advocating for abortion laws abroad.
The move was cheered by abortion foes and decried by supporters of abortion rights.
“President Trump’s reinstatement of the Global Gag Rule ignores decades of research, instead favoring ideological politics over women and families,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.). “We know that when family planning services and contraceptives are easily accessible, there are fewer unplanned pregnancies, maternal deaths, and abortions.”
Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, warned that the move makes “clear that women will be the first casualty of his administration.”
But anti-abortion groups and lawmakers say their federal tax dollars shouldn’t be used to pay for or to provide information about a procedure they disagree with.
“President Trump’s immediate action to promote respect for all human life, including vulnerable unborn children abroad, as well as conscience rights, sends a strong signal about his Administration’s pro-life priorities,” said Dannensfelser.
Even without the ban in place, US-funded programs and health clinics don’t perform abortions — that’s already ruled out — but they can provide information about the option. Now with the ban, if they really want to do that, no matter who pays for it, the US government will cut them off.
The policy also prohibits taxpayer funding for groups that lobby to legalise abortion or promote it as a family planning method.
President Donald Trump shows off a signed executive order to reinstitute a policy barring any recipient of US assistance from performing or promoting abortions abroad.
The ban is a blow to reproductive rights but it’s one that’s been seen before. It’s become something of a political football, ruled in and out by successive Republic and Democratic administrations since 1984.
But the setting in which the new President chose to stage its reinstatement has abortion activists outraged.
Mr Trump signed the executive order in the Oval Office, surrounded by men.
With his Vice President and staff looking on, the President sealed the deal on the “global gag rule” — there didn’t appear to be any women alongside the president when he did so.
The timing was also significant. Mr Trump signed the order after the January 22 anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade decision that legalised abortion in the United States. The date is traditionally when presidents take action on the policy.
The policy has been instituted by Republican administrations and rescinded by Democratic ones since it was first introduced in 1984 by Ronald Reagan.
Most recently, former president Barack Obama ended the ban in 2009, and Mr Trump of course made it a priority to move against it.
The ban isn’t expected to decrease the number of abortions completed in developing countries, but health and activist groups say it is expected to restrict access to safe abortions and undermine the viability of groups that provide contraception and family planning options.
The World Health Organisation estimates 21.6 million women a year have unsafe abortions in developing countries, accounting for 13 per cent of all maternal deaths.
Millions of women around the world marched for women’s rights against Donald Trump at the weekend.
The decision follows marches staged around the world that saw millions of women gather to protest Mr Trump’s election.
One of the primary concerns of women who were marching was the threat to their reproductive and abortion rights that arrived with the new administration.
Mr Trump has not moved on abortion rights within the US since arriving in the White House on Friday, but he previewed his views on the subject in the lead-up to the election.
In an interview in March last year when he was yet to be officially granted presidential candidacy, Mr Trump suggested there should be “some sort of punishment” for women who obtain abortions.
In a letter to pro-life organisations in September 2016, Mr Trump outlined his views on abortion including “nominating to pro-life justices to the US Supreme Court” and “defunding Planned Parenthood”.
His Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, campaigned on “defending women’s rights to make their own health care decisions”.
During debates, her pro-choice view was ridiculed by Mr Trump, using graphic language to describe late-term abortion rights which he argued his opponent would advocate for.
“If you go with what Hillary is saying, in the ninth month, you can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb of the mother just prior to the birth of the baby,” he said.
Ms Clinton slammed Mr Trump’s “scare rhetoric” and said what he described was “not what happens in these cases”.
Critics suggested the statement showed Mr Trump had a misunderstanding of how abortion works in the US.
Locally, advocacy groups are expecting an “all-out assault on family planning and abortion” this year as rolling back women’s rights has been put back on the agenda of conservative American leaders.
As news.com.au reported recently, the US has seen a spread of “fake” abortion clinics, which advertise the service only to lure pregnant women into their doors and convince them not to go through with it. In extreme cases, women are beginning to turn to “self-abortion” as a last resort.
In the US, legislation around abortion rights are controlled at a state level rather than federally.