In the absence of a single woman, President Donald Trump yesterday signed a ban on federal money going to groups which either perform or dispense information on abortions abroad. The executive order reinstates the “Mexico City policy,” which was first introduced in 1984 by President Reagan at a United Nations conference in Mexico City, and will prohibit U.S. aid groups that provide or promote the procedure abroad. The policy has proven somewhat of a political football over the years, having been rescinded under the following Clinton administration, brought back under President George W. Bush, and then reversed again when Obama took office.
However, under President Trump the policy will now go further. While it previously barred U.S. foreign aid from being given to any nongovernmental organization (NGO) working abroad which referred to abortion as a family-planning option – U.S. tax dollars cannot at present be used to fund abortion procedures elsewhere – it will now be expanded to include all organizations in receipt of global health money. This might include maternal health programs, anti-Zika efforts, and the expansive PEPFAR program to stop HIV/AIDS.
The policy has earned the nickname ‘Global Gag Law,’ since critics suggest it makes international organizations feel censored, preventing them from offering women comprehensive advice on family planning. Research suggests the policy may also be counterintuitive. For example, a report by the World Health Organization in 2011 showed a spike in the number of abortions in Sub-Saharan African countries when the policy was reintroduced under George Bush in 2001.
Following the policy reinstatement yesterday, fresh criticisms have been leveled against the measure by health organizations, who argue that limiting access to family planning advice can ultimately make abortions more likely and less safe.
Marie Stopes International, a nonprofit reproductive-health group, have said they cannot adhere to the conditions of the order and will subsequently be forfeiting their USAID funding. In a written statement, Marjorie Newman-Williams, vice president and director of Marie Stopes International’s international operations, said: “Attempts to stop abortion through restrictive laws — or by withholding family planning aid — will never work, because they do not eliminate women’s need for abortion…this policy only exacerbates the already significant challenge of ensuring that people in the developing world who want to time and space their children can obtain the contraception they need to do so.”
Although the policy is only relevant overseas it nonetheless appears to indicate the tough stance America’s new President is preparing to take on abortion. Mr. Trump has notoriously wavered in his position on the contentious issue, veering from a pro-choice position in 1999 to an increasingly anti-abortion stance during his Presidential campaign.
The decision to revive the funding ban falls at a significant time – just two days after the Women’s March on Washington and a day after the 44th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.