On International Safe Abortion Day, we must recognize the importance of safe, legal, and accessible abortion for women and people of reproductive capacity. This means reducing stigma, increasing access, and overturning policies that curb access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare.
Trump’s Global Gag Rule is one of the administration’s many policies that is undermining reproductive healthcare access around the world. The Global Gage Rule withholds U.S. funding from any foreign organization that mentions abortion. The policy has led organizations to close, lay off staff, and scale back many essential reproductive health services. These organizations face an impossible choice: either sign the order and stop providing and advocating for essential reproductive health services, or refuse to sign and lose significant funding, limiting service provision.
Family Health Options Kenya (FHOK) is one such organization. FHOK has provided more than 12 million services since 2009 to reduce the unmet need for contraceptives, but has lost half its budget by refusing to sign the Global Gag Rule. Trump’s attack on reproductive rights has forced FHOK to close two of its fourteen clinics and eliminate essential services.
Amos Simpano, Director of Clinical Services at FHOK, explained the effect of the policy on his organization and its clients. “If we don’t provide family planning, provide women options to space their births at a time they want, then it means they get unintended pregnancies, unwanted pregnancies, the next thing they do is to go for unsafe abortions…And they can die.”
Similarly, Marie Stopes International, which is one of the largest contraceptive providers in the world, lost $80 million in funding by refusing to sign the Global Gag Rule. It projects that the funding gap, if unfilled, will result in 2.5 million unintended pregnancies, 870,000 unsafe abortions, and 6,900 avoidable maternal deaths.
Despite what conservative politicians and anti-choice leaders want you to think, restricting abortion access does not lead to fewer abortions. It makes abortion unsafe. Independent researchers at Stanford University found that previous iterations of Trump’s Global Gag Rule under Republican administrations since Reagan doubled induced abortions in sub-Saharan Africa and most of them were unsafe.
In the United States, we are also not safe from the conservative attack on reproductive rights. The Hyde Amendment, a policy in place since 1976, denies people enrolled in Medicaid insurance access to abortion. This policy penalizes low-income women and women of color, who are more likely to qualify for Medicaid, by restricting their control over their own bodies and decisions. In recent years, politicians have passed hundreds of state level policies, intended to evade federal laws to curb abortion access further, with mechanisms including forced delays (“waiting periods”), medical misinformation, and TRAP laws that put undue requirements on abortion providers. The proposed Domestic Gag Rule would mandate that all clinics that receive Title X funding cannot refer patients for abortion. This would block patient care organizations like Planned Parenthood that serve populations in low-income and rural settings, where there are few to no alternatives for reproductive health care.
The Trump administration continues to push regressive policy to restrict reproductive healthcare. Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to serve on the Supreme Court may lead to overturning Roe v. Wade. Subsequently, abortion access would be left up to the states. Individuals in conservative states, people of color, and low-income people would be disproportionately affected. Right-leaning politicians are clearly out of touch with their constituents, as 71 percent of Americans believe Roe should not be overturned.
Domestic attacks on reproductive health encourage further restrictions abroad. As a leader in family planning, the US has historically paved the way for progressive policies that increase access to reproductive healthcare. The Global Gag Rule changes the rhetoric about abortion by limiting choice and imposing right-wing, conservative morals on the rest of the world. Similarly, US domestic policy serves to further stigmatize sexual and reproductive health abroad.
The path toward safer abortion is clear: We need legal reform, political will, and successful implementation of law. This Friday is International Safe Abortion Day and I stand with Population Connection Action Fund for safe abortion services for all people everywhere. I urge you to take a stand by supporting the Global HER Act, which would permanently repeal the deadly Global Gag Rule.