One of the first policy measures taken by Donald Trump as the new leader of the “free world” was reinstating and expanding a piece of presidential policy known as the “Global Gag Rule.” The policy bars USAID funding for any organization abroad that provides abortions or even presents abortion as a family planning option. As Zoë Carpenter reported, the Global Gag Rule, first implemented by Reagan, has been repeatedly rescinded by subsequent Democratic administrations, then reinstated whenever Republicans move into the White House.
But that doesn’t mean there’s anything routine about Trump’s move to bring the Global Gag Rule back. In fact, given what we know so far about the Trump team’s foreign-policy agenda, the GGR fits a pattern of testing attacks on human rights across the Global South that can then be imposed on American soil.
How much will the Trump administration’s focus on border policy, migration, and foreign aid–funding work its way back home? As one of many aspects of Trump’s emerging foreign-policy agenda, the GGR foreshadows how policies attacking human rights across the Gobal South serve as a weathervane for oppressive measures within US borders.
Gagging Women’s Rights
Trump’s version of the Global Gag Rule goes further than previous versions have, by expanding the ban to all global health assistance, potentially affecting as much as $9.5 billion in foreign aid. According to Beirne Roose-Snyder, director of public policy for the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE), “We expect to see a much broader and deeper impact on health care delivery across the world from implementers to providers to in-country health systems.” Studies show the gag rule has wide-ranging impacts, including the shuttering of clinics across Ghana and limiting efforts to reduce unsafe abortion in Ethiopia. And ironically, gagging abortion access is associated with statistical increases in unwanted pregnancy and abortion rates.
According to Snyder, the rule’s punitive restrictions “would likely be unconstitutional if applied to US-based NGOs.” But US courts have generally ruled that when it comes to foreign-aid policy, the First Amendment effectively ends at our borders. That means that under a strict constitutional reading, the United States can discriminate in terms of which international groups it funds, and arguably can restrict funding for programs that don’t advance a US agenda—including on abortion issues.