Trump’s Global Gag Rule in Kenya: A Matter of Life and Death

By Rachel Walker, Advocacy Fellow

At 18, Atieno found out she was pregnant. Knowing she would be kicked out of school and disowned by her family, she swallowed various chemicals and pills hoping to induce an abortion. After the first abortion didn’t work, she began to show that she was pregnant and was expelled from school. Desperate, she took a handful of pills given to her by a friend and induced an abortion that almost cost her her life.

Despite Kenya’s constitutional reforms in 2010 that were intended to reduce the number of deaths and complications from unsafe abortion, unsafe abortions are still a major public health problem in Kenya. Article 26(2) of the new constitution states that life begins at conception, but Article 26(4) allows for abortion when a woman’s life or health is jeopardized. Because the law is vague and physicians were unclear as to when they could legally perform abortions, the Ministry of Health issued safe abortion guidelines to medical personnel resulting in wider availability of safe, legal abortions. But in response to pressure from anti-choice activists, the Ministry withdrew these guidelines in 2013, and also issued a memo requiring medical personnel to forego safe abortion training. As a result, there is now widespread uncertainty about the conditions under which abortion can be legally performed.

Because the law is restrictive, safe abortions are both expensive and difficult to obtain. The social stigma surrounding unplanned pregnancy and abortion often leads patients to seek out clandestine procedures which are unsafe, risky and often life-threatening.

Making a Bad Situation Worse

Trump’s Global Gag Rule is further complicating the situation in Kenya, and across the developing world. Trump’s Global Gag Rule will close clinics throughout Kenya that provide crucial medical care, leaving people with nowhere to go for contraception, STI testing, cancer screenings, child immunizations, or appointments when they’re sick.

One clinic that has already closed is the Family Health Options Kenya (FHOK) –Mombasa clinic. Other clinics, like the FHOK-Kibera clinic, has already had to scale back staffing and cut out their community outreach programs. Melvine Ouyo, Kibera Clinic Director and a nurse specializing in reproductive health care told activist Lisa Shannon several months ago that she expected that Trump’s Global Gag Rule would force her clinic to close, leaving over 250,000 residents of Kibera without health care.

Melvine and her colleague Amos Simpano, Director of Clinical Services for FHOK, have been in Washington, DC since October 23 to kick off a tour to Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Nevada, Arizona, New Hampshire, and Colorado to talk about reproductive health care in Kenya and the damage that’s being done by Trump’s Global Gag Rule.

Melvine Ouys in the FHOK-Kibera clinic.

Where will the people who rely on care from FHOK-Kibera go?

Mercy, 19 years old, told Lisa Shannon that if the clinic closes, she didn’t know what she’d do for health care for herself and her two-year-old daughter. She relies on the clinic for her family planning needs, cervical cancer screenings, and medical care for her child. Without the clinic, she’ll have to forego care when she and her daughter are sick. And when her contraceptive implant expires, she will have to go without a replacement.

Mercy photographed in her home in Kibera.

What will happen to those whom Trump will deny access to health care?

Trump’s Global Gag Rule will result in preventable deaths—and will not save lives, counter to the claim of proponents who laughably tout the policy as “pro-life.” Donald Trump and the Republicans in Congress insist on pursuing their deadly ideology over a mountain of evidence demonstrating Trump’s Global Gag Rule’s harmful effects on people all over the world. Shuttering clinics and shutting off access to family planning is not “pro-life.” Trump’s Global Gag Rule will only cause people to die.

Attend an event to hear from and meet Melvine Ouyo, Amos Simpano, and Lisa Shannon. Times, dates, and locations for tour events can be found here. 

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