The stifling of women’s reproductive rights

by Laura Mundy 

On his first full day in the White House, Donald Trump reinstated the Mexico City Policy – or to be more apt – the Global Gag Rule, named to reflect the silencing of women’s right to healthcare in one fell swoop of a patriarchal signature.

You might recall the image below of eight men behind a desk, signing into law the withdrawal of US funding for health organisations operating outside of the US that provide abortions – or even offer information about abortions.

Source: The Independent

In summary, the Global Gag Rule blocks US funds to any organisation involved in abortion advice and care, overseas. This is expected to have a huge impact on family planning services and women’s health programmes in less developed countries.

Not only will this rule strip funding from any organisation that “performs or actively promotes abortion as a method of family planning”, but goes even further, slashing finance to any organisation supported by US aid not just those involved in reproductive health – if they choose to continue offering abortion services.

This denial of women’s access to vital sexual reproductive health services is actually the product of years of deliberation and U-turns at the hands of the US government.

When Ronald Reagan led the Republicans to victory in 1984, he devised the policy we see today, albeit far worse now under Trump’s conditions. Then came Clinton’s Democrat presidency in 1993 which saw the policy rescinded, only for George W. Bush to reinstate it in 2001. Barack Obama again denounced the policy in 2009, and in recent times, the now President Trump once again reinstated it.

To give some context of how this has stifled developing nations in the past, US-based charity EngenderHeath reported that: ‘From 2001 to 2009, 20 developing countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East lost US-donated contraceptives, and many organisations and clinics were forced to reduce services, lay off staff or shut down entirely.’

They added that: ‘…the Global Gag Rule affected family planning, HIV services, maternal and child health, and even malaria services. And in no place did the policy reduce abortions. In fact, the irony is that this policy led to more unwanted pregnancies.’

HOW DOES THE GLOBAL GAG RULE MANIFEST IN REAL LIFE? 

Source: ODI and WHO

The consequences of Trump’s Gag Rule are set to cause a lot more restrictions than cuts to abortion-related services; this in part is down to the fact that ‘abortion-only’ clinics are few and far between. Abortions most often take place in clinics or health centres that offer vital reproductive health services too. Cutting funding for abortion means cutting funding for them all.

This partnered with the fact that the US is the largest provider of overseas global healthcare aid, signals even further chaos.

It is important to evaluate what other services will be impacted by the Global Gag Rule.

1. Contraception and family planning

Millions of women worldwide rely on contraception to safely control the timing and prevention of pregnancies. Being in control of fertility has been proven to directly contribute to women’s economic empowerment and the increased ability to keep the cyclical poverty trap at bay.

Access to contraception for young women has been proven to decrease numbers of teenage pregnancies, which in turn improves young people’s opportunity to gain education, life skills and employment. The Global Gag Rule directly prevents US-funded international organisations offering contraception and abortion, from providing either service.

2. HIV and AIDS

HIV is commonly diagnosed at family planning clinics, when women come in for their first antenatal appointment. In some rural and poor parts of less developed countries, this can be mothers’ first contact with healthcare providers. By cutting funds to family planning clinics, Trump is denying women access to routine HIV testing during pregnancy, and the result will be a direct and damaging rise in HIV prevalence as current infections go undiagnosed.

The success of preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV has accelerated in the last few years, thanks to routine HIV testing. The testing procedure has enabled the provision of antiretroviral drugs to HIV-positive expectant mothers, which in turn vastly reduces the chance of passing the virus to their unborn child. The Global Gag funding cut will directly undermine the progress that has been made in reducing HIV transmissions from mother to child.

3. Sexual abuse and rape support services

Attacked Not Defeated was founded upon the trauma that too many women experience as a result of inadequate support after rape or sexual abuse. It is integral that crisis services provide information about abortion. Yet Trump has just denied that to millions of women. The result is a catastrophic violation of women’s rights to make a decision over their body following abuse.

But it’s not only abortion services at rape crisis centres that will be affected by the cut in funding. All crisis centres reliant on US funding – providing services such as emergency contraception, STI testing, HIV testing, post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV, counselling, hospital referrals, face the real possibility of closure if they choose to continue providing abortion services.

4. Abortion itself

Consider additionally that restricting abortion services does not decrease the demand for abortions; it only serves to increase the need for unsafe or illegal abortion, which results in higher rates of maternal death. Preventing access to safe abortions will force women to seek unregulated or ‘backstreet’ procedures that endanger their health in many different ways. The World Health Organization estimates that 13% of maternal deaths are due to unsafe abortions.

By taking away funding for all other family planning services it is undeniable that this will lead to more unwanted pregnancies; HIV infections and STIs; and abortions.

In response to the Global Gag Rule, the Dutch government has set up She Decides, an international funding initiative to plug the ‘gap’ many organisation will be left facing by the cuts. Many other governments have pledged support already, and anyone can donate to the fund.

We must not stand by and let huge organisations such as the International Planned Parenthood Federation, Marie Stopes International or PAI lose funding for the work they do all over the world, let alone the hundreds and thousands of smaller organisations that stand to lose service-threatening sums of money for all the work mentioned above.

We must work together to fight for women’s access to sexual and reproductive health, family planning and abortion the world over, for it is a fundamental human right regardless of government-bound legislation.

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