Since this weekend’s Women’s March on Washington, I have heard a number of people ask online and in person why women are so worried about President Trump. What do we have to fear? What could be so important that nearly 3 million citizens would take to the streets in peaceful protest?
While there are almost as many reasons for protesting as there were protestors on Saturday, one major reason is simple: Trump, and the conservatives he’s surrounded himself with, prove over and over again that they neither care about nor respect women. This morning’s executive order, reinstating the Mexico City policy, is one potent example.
In short, the Mexico City Policy (known also as the “Global Gag Rule”) prohibits U.S. aid to any foreign non-governmental organization (NGO) that has anything to do with abortion, even though the Helms Amendment, passed in 1973, already prohibits U.S. aid from being used for abortion services. Enforcement of the gag rule means that any organization that offers abortion services, counsels women on abortion services, offers referrals to women seeking abortion services, and/or advocates for looser abortion-related restrictions within their own country and pays for those services with non-U.S. funds is prohibited from receiving even $1 of U.S. aid for family planning or women’s health services.
To fully understand what that means, consider these words from Chairman Lantos taken from a hearing in 2007 before the Committee on Foreign Affairs House of Representatives, One Hundredth Tenth Congress, First Session:
“If these overseas groups spend even a dime of their own money advocating for changes in their own nation’s abortion laws, they are ineligible to receive family planning funds from our own country. They can’t spend their own money to do what they think is right for women without losing U.S. support.
These same hard working NGOs are not just sidelined in the policy debate, they cannot even counsel women about abortion. If a pregnant woman shows up at a family planning clinic in South Africa, the doctor cannot even tell her that abortion is an option without jeopardizing the clinic’s financial support.”
While some may say the U.S. has no business providing aid to other countries when we need it here at home, that isn’t the issue in this case. At the heart of this issue, as explained time and again by conservatives who support, reinstate, and enforce the gag, is abortion—not money.
This afternoon, for example, after President Trump signed the executive order reinstating the gag, White House Press Secretary told reporters, “I think the president, it’s no secret, has made it very clear that he’s a pro-life president.”
When “protecting taxpayers” is brought up in regard to this policy, it is almost always, as it was today, in reference to ensuring taxpayer funds don’t go toward paying “to perform an action that is contrary to the values of this president.”
As mentioned above, however, the Helms Amendment already prohibits that practice. Not a single penny of U.S. aid money is spent on abortion—whether or not the gag rule is in effect. Instead, our aid is spent on family planning and health care services for women and couples around the world. Services that protect the lives of women and infants, reduce the spread of HIV and AIDS, and help reduce the need for abortion—which is exactly what conservatives claim to want. Instituting the gag, however, and eliminating or removing that aid, does the opposite.
When the gag rule is in place, family planning and women’s health clinics close or drastically reduce their staff in order to operate without U.S. funds. When that happens, we see increased rates of HIV transmission, abortion, and maternal and infant mortality. When it is lifted, as during the Obama years, abortion rates go down and maternal and infant health improves. In 2015, for example, the $610 million of U.S. aid to non-governmental family planning organizations enabled 28 million women and couples to receive contraception, including condoms. It kept 12,000 women alive who otherwise would have died in childbirth, and it averted 2.4 million induced abortions. That means that by lifting the gag rule, and providing already agreed upon aid, the U.S. prevents millions of abortions each year.
If Republicans truly want to eliminate the need for abortion, then they should support organizations attempting to provide broader and cheaper access to contraception and overall health care. The gag rule does the opposite, as well as endangering women and children on numerous levels. Claiming otherwise is simply propaganda.