In January, women marked one year of Trump’s presidency by rallying in protest, showing they refused to be silenced by Trump’s oppressive regime. But January also saw the first anniversary of the Global Gag rule, the administration’s ban on international-aid funding for groups linked to abortion-related family-planning services.
The gag rule does not directly ban abortion-related services in aid-receiving communities but, rather, links major funding from USAID to strict rules on avoiding facilitation or promotion of abortion in any way. USAID is currently a dominant contributor to global family-planning programs, supporting some $600 million in grants for service providers within a multibillion-dollar framework of global health aid. Trump’s gag rule revives Reagan-era strictures on services, and expands them an estimated 16 times, according to the Global Fund for Women.
Since the 1980s, the “Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance” rule, unilaterally imposed by the Reagan administration, has been by turns repealed and reinstated, depending on which party holds the White House, most recently with Trump resurrecting the ban by reversing Obama’s repeal immediately after taking office. To burnish his conservative bona fides, Trump drastically expanded the rule to “an estimated $8.8 billion in US global health assistance, including funding support for family planning and reproductive health, maternal and child health, nutrition, HIV/AIDS—including The President’s Plan for Emergency Relief for AIDS (PEPFAR), prevention and treatment of tuberculosis, malaria (including the President’s Malaria Initiative), infectious diseases, neglected tropical diseases, and even to water, sanitation, and hygiene programs,” reports Human Rights Watch (HRW), leaving untouched by the gag rule virtually no health program that women and families need.
The gag rule is one of many ways the “developing world” has become an insidious laboratory of anti-democratic, reactionary US policy ideas. While banning abortion-related services in the United States has proven difficult thanks to constitutional protections on free expression, the GOP has ensured that the Global South is not entitled to the same protections.
The State Department’s recent six-month review suggests a decline in the number of groups receiving grants, but claims the government is successfully engaging partner organizations to ensure compliance, and that funded activities through major grantees were continuing apace. But advocates for international NGOs say the report masks the real impacts in the field.