In keeping with a long-standing Republican policy that began with President Ronald Reagan, President Donald Trump on Monday reinstated the “global gag rule,” an order that bans organizations in other countries from providing information about abortion or offering abortion services if they benefit from U.S. funding.
In a bid to mitigate the harmful effects this rule is likely to have in developing countries, Dutch development minister Lilianne Ploumen has announced an international abortion fund for groups that want to continue providing birth control and abortion to women who need it.
“This decision has far-reaching consequences,” Ploumen said in a Tuesday statement about Trump’s revival of the rule. “Above all for the women it affects, who should be able to decide for themselves if they want a child, but also for their husbands and children and for society as a whole. Banning abortion does not reduce the number of abortions. What it leads to is dangerous backroom procedures and higher maternal mortality.”
Ploumen went on to tout the Dutch government’s achievements in helping prevent more than 6 million unwanted pregnancies and half a million abortions through its support of women’s organizations around the world.
To continue the work, Ploumen invited other “governments, companies and civil society organizations” to contribute to the new fund, which aims to make up for any potential cut in U.S. funding that results from the global gag rule.
Between 15 and 20 countries, as well as some foundations, have already reached out to Ploumen in support of her idea, The Guardian reported Wednesday.
The U.S. Agency for International Development is the world’s largest country-to-country donor in family planning.
The global gag rule, also known as the Mexico City policy, was first enacted by Reagan in 1984. Since its inception, every new Democratic administration has overturned it, while every Republican administration has reinstated it.
However, it’s important to note that a 1973 law known as the Helms Amendment already bans American funds from being used to pay directly for abortion procedures. What the global gag rule does, essentially, is strip U.S. funding from any clinics that continue to simply educate women about abortion, or that pay for abortion services with other funds ― even if the procedure is legal in that country.
The gag rule has life-and-death consequences. Marie Stopes International, a major global organization that will be affected by the rule, estimates that a cut in its funding alone will result in 6.5 million more unwanted pregnancies, 2.2 million more abortions and the deaths of 21,700 young women in the next four years.
Research also shows that the gag rule is actually linked to a rise in abortion rates around the world. A 2011 study from Stanford researchers looked at the abortion rates among some 260,000 women in 20 African countries from 1994 to 2008, and found that restricting funding for clinics that provided abortion services led to an uptick in abortion rates.
From 1994 to 2001, when Bill Clinton was president and the gag rule was rescinded, the annual rate in the countries under review was 10.4 abortions per 10,000 women. But from 2001 to 2008, when George W. Bush was president and the gag rule was back on the books, the annual rate rose significantly, to 14.5 abortions per 10,000 women.
The researchers also calculated that women living in countries that were deeply affected by the gag rule had almost three times the odds of having an abortion during the W. Bush administration as they did during the Clinton years. While the researchers hesitated to draw a definitive conclusion about the rise of abortions in sub-Saharan Africa during the W. Bush administration, they hypothesized that withdrawing money from clinics that provided modern contraception may have led to an increase in the abortion rate.
And of course, these clinics often provide preventive health services beyond family planning ― all of which will be affected if U.S. funding is stripped from the organizations.
Reports commissioned by the global women’s health organization Engender Health found that in 2006, three-quarters of the way through the W. Bush administration, the global gag rule resulted in the closure of eight clinics in Kenya, several of which were the only source of general health care for their community. In Zambia, the only non-governmental organization that offered reproductive health services lost almost 40 percent of its staff, greatly hindering both family planning and HIV prevention efforts.
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