Caitlin Mayo is a sophomore nursing major.
On his fourth day in office, President Donald Trump signed a bold executive order reminiscent of the Reagan era’s restrictions on reproductive justice. The order reinstated a global gag rule on overseas organizations and individuals receiving federal funding, putting NGOs that have anything to do with abortion in danger of losing U.S. aid. This gag rule has been previously instated under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush and was met with disastrous results for people that rely the most on foreign aid.
If the goal of the gag rule is to prevent federal funding from going towards abortions overseas and reduce overall abortion rates, it has backfired both times. Since the implementation of the 1973 Helms Agreement, federal funding has not gone towards abortions abroad. According to an article in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization, abortion rates have actually increased in developing nations in Sub-Saharan Africa during the years that the gag rule was implemented. Under the gag rule, healthcare providers are prevented from giving the best care possible from their patients, preventing them from mentioning all possible health options. This is due in part to the overall scope of the gag rule, which also includes family planning, condom use for HIV prevention and basic birth control, services that easily prevent infectious disease and dangerous pregnancies. When this policy was implemented under the Reagan and Bush administrations, international health organizations were forced to choose between focusing on non-reproductive health projects (such as disease prevention) to keep U.S. funding, or pursuing family planning with the risk of losing the funding necessary for operation. For the women that these family planning services are aimed at, the gag rule proves to be detrimental. By extension, the overall health of these underserved communities suffers for it.
However, with Trump’s new implementation of the gag rule, the budget cuts will not only defund family planning and reproductive health; it will also affect any and all global health assistance. As one of the largest stakeholders in global health and foreign aid, our withdrawal from all such programs would hold a tremendous effect. Fifty countries are slated to meet on March 2 in Belgium to discuss how they will support reproductive and sexual health worldwide, with or without U.S. support. If the U.S. were to withdraw their foreign support, the global health community would experience a deficit of at least 600 million euros. Several European nations, such as the Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark, have offered to contribute more money to a women’s health fund to fill the deficit, but these contributions would not be enough to cover the deficit.
Overall, the gag rule is one of Trump’s worst acts of to trying to influence the public. The gag rule will not stop women who want abortions from receiving them. Women will continue to seek these services, despite not having safe access. However, when provided the tools needed to claim autonomy over their health and prevent pregnancy, abortion rates would decrease as they had during years when the gag rule was not implemented. If the Trump administration indeed wanted to reduce abortions worldwide, it would be best to uphold family planning programs abroad.