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What is the Global Gag Rule and why could it be damaging for women worldwide?

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As one of his first acts in office, the newly inaugurated President Trump has reinstated the “Global Gag Rule” to set the tone for his presidency as being firmly anti-choice.

The Global Gag Rule, known formally as the Mexico City Policy after the city in which the policy was announced, was signed into law by Ronald Reagan in 1984 and came into effect the following year.

It forbids all foreign non-governmental organisations that receive any funding from the US government from promoting or providing abortion services as a method of family planning. This even includes abortion being mentioned as an option for women, which is why the policy has been referred to as a “global gag”.

Though the policy does include exceptions where abortions are used in cases of rape, incest, or life-threatening conditions, these circumstances can be notoriously hard to prove.

Trump is not the first US president to reinstate the Global Gag Rule, as the policy has proven extremely controversial, and has often acted as a crucial point of differentiation between Republican and Democrat presidents. President Clinton rescinded the policy in 1993, as did Obama in 2009, saying that the policy “undermined efforts to promote safe and effective voluntary family planning in developing countries”.

Republican President George W. Bush then reinstated it in 2001 due to his belief that taxpayer funds should not be used to fund or actively promote abortions.  

This policy was originally intended to target abortions only, but was expanded to cut off funding for any NGO promoting voluntary family planning in other countries, such as those advertising means of contraception and providing condoms.

Critics argue that this has been extremely harmful to women worldwide, particularly in developing countries, as it has meant that NGOs have had decreased access to birth control, and rates of unwanted pregnancies have increased. This is particularly dangerous in countries where maternal death rates are higher and quality of healthcare is worse. A report by EngenderHealth revealed that NGOs in Nepal lost $100,000 of funding per year as a result of the policy from 2001-2006.  

US aid is vital to women’s health programs worldwide. Unsafe abortions kill almost 50,000 women a year according to the WHO, and the reintroduction of the Global Gag Rule could put many more women in developing countries at risk. 

Images by Charlotte Cooper and NARA




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