US expansion of global gag rule will ‘punish women’ worldwide

Rights groups slam Trump administration’s decision to expand ban on foreign aid to groups providing, promoting abortion.

People & Power - Trump and ethics of foreign aid
A coalition of physicians, AIDS activists, medical students, and women's health and rights advocates protest against Trump's 'global gag rule' [Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket/Getty Images]

Washington, DC – The Trump administration’s decision to further expand the so-called “global gag rule” that bans foreign aid to groups providing or promoting abortion will “undermine the health and human rights of women and girls globally”, rights groups said on Tuesday.

The rule is “sending a very clear signal to the rest of the world that the US is comfortable turning its back on the human rights of women and girls around the world”, Veronika Cernadas, a spokeswoman for the Center for Reproductive Rights told Al Jazeera.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Tuesday that the US was furthering its expansion of the global gag rule by cracking down on NGOs that provide funding to other groups that provide or promote abortions.

“We will refuse to provide assistance to foreign NGOs that give financial support to other foreign groups in the global abortion industry,” Pompeo told reporters.

He added that “this administration has shown that we can continue to meet our critical global health goals, including providing healthcare for women, while refusing to subsidise the killing of unborn babies.”

The Reagan-era policy, also known as the Mexico City policy, bans international organisations that receive US funding from providing abortion services or offering information about the procedure. The rule has traditionally been rescinded or rolled back by Democratic presidents and reinstated by Republican leaders.

The administration of US President Donald Trump reinstated the rule after taking office and expanded it to include funding coming from the US Department of State, USAID and Department of Defense. 


According to health groups, the rule now targets the entire US global health assistance portfolio, which includes more than nine billion dollars in global health assistance funding.

Due to the cuts and expansion of the rule, “you lose the most effective providers for comprehensive services in countries where it is so important to have US foreign assistance form women’s access to those services,” said Elisha Dunn-Georgiou, the vice president of programmes at PAI, a global organisation working to advance reproductive health.

“What we see is that particularly rural women, marginalised populations, young people, really the most vulnerable populations are the ones that are the most hit by this policy,” she told Al Jazeera.

‘Disregard women’s rights’

According to rights groups, the expansion of the rule means that NGOs providing services to prevent and treat malaria, HIV and other infections diseases have been greatly affected. 

They also argue that limiting funding to organisations that provide access to family planning, including abortion, will force more women and young girls to make the decision to have unsafe abortions. 


Pompeo also said that expansion of the rule means that the US will cut funding to the Organisation of American States (OAS).

“The institutions of OAS should be focused on addressing crises in Cuba, Nicaragua and in Venezuela, not advancing the pro-abortion cause,” he said.

Rights groups have accused the Trump administration of waging a war against women’s rights and reproductive health by reinstating the global gag rule, appointing anti-abortion rights activists to key posts in federal departments dealing with women’s health and seeking to cut Title X funding to health providers that perform abortions or make abortion referrals. 

“The approach overall is to punish women and disregard women’s rights,” Dunn-Georgiou said. “There is no attempt at all to provide comprehensive reproductive health services to women and to give women the option to live their healthiest lives”.

Source: Al Jazeera