The “global gag rule” prohibits foreign NGOs from so much as mentioning abortion—with severe health impacts for vulnerable groupsby Jessica Abrahams / July 25, 2019 / Leave a comment
It was one of the first things Donald Trump did when he got into power. Within days of entering office in January 2017, the US President reinstated the “global gag rule,” stripping US government funding from foreign NGOs involved in any aspect of abortion work worldwide.
Two and a half years on, new research has confirmed just how harmful this rule really is. As the evidence continues to mount, so does the damage inflicted on vulnerable groups.
Also known as the Mexico City Policy, the global gag rule has been repeatedly repealed and reinstated by a cycle of Democratic and Republican presidents since 1984. It does not apply to US-based organisations, whose free speech is protected by the US constitution. But foreign NGOs are not afforded the same rights.
Trump embarked on an unprecedented expansion of the policy to see it cover more than $8bn worth of US global health assistance—a move far more dramatic than any of his Republican predecessors, who had limited it to affecting some hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of foreign aid. He renamed it the “Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance” policy.
The gag rule is not about foreign aid directly funding abortions—that has been prohibited since 1973. What the rule means is that foreign NGOs receiving US funding for other health care services cannot also fund abortion work using other means—for example, money raised from public donations or from other governments. It also prevents NGOs from offering information or legal advice about abortion to patients, even if it is legal in the country where they work.
That might sound complicated. But in summary, it has come to be known as the gag rule among opponents because it prohibits foreign NGOs, their health professionals and outreach workers from so much as mentioning abortion as an option. In January 2017, those NGOs receiving US funding faced a choice: comply with the rule by refraining from the offending activities, or forfeit the money.
As the world’s largest economy, the US is also by far the biggest provider of global health assistance, working with NGOs, governments and multilateral institutions around the world to help control threats such as HIV, malaria and maternal mortality. As a result, the impact of such a restrictive policy on NGOs and the health systems that rely on them has been severe.