The Trump administration today released details regarding how it will expand the Global Gag Rule to all U.S. global health funding – including PEPFAR and other HIV treatment and prevention programs. This unprecedented move rejects years of exempting PEPFAR from the policy, even under previous Republican administrations. All past administrations have exempted PEPFAR for 14 years because of a universally accepted understanding that the most effective health programs for women and girls are achieved through fully integrating HIV and sexual and reproductive health services. No U.S. funding has been or is used for abortions under long-standing law, but Trump’s expanded Global Gag Rule bars foreign service providers who receive U.S. funding from even speaking about the value of safe abortion services, meaning women’s health and HIV services will be cleaved from one another, undermining the AIDS fight.
“The fact that the administration is renaming this deadly policy to suggest that it will protect life is base hypocrisy at its most political,” said Asia Russell, Executive Director of Health Global Access Project (Health GAP). “Expanding the Global Gag Rule to include PEPFAR will reduce the standard of sexual and reproductive care provided to women living with and at risk for HIV and risks undoing years of progress on women’s health in PEPFAR countries.”
Expanding the Global Gag Rule to encompass U.S. global health funding, including PEPFAR but excluding the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, will have a chilling effect on HIV service providers by forcing them to choose between providing the highest standard of comprehensive care and losing funding – functionally denying their basic free speech rights, including in Uganda where access to information is constitutionally protected and South Africa, where safe abortion access is legal.
“Despite the administration’s spin, this policy is a thinly veiled strategy for funneling taxpayer dollars to anti-abortion, conservative groups that are unequipped to provide the evidence based, integrated sexual and reproductive health services that lead to the best health outcomes for women and girls, including women living with HIV,” said Russell. “This is an unprecedented move that prioritizes a cheap political point ahead of the health of women and girls around the world.”
The Global Gag Rule is associated with increased rates of abortion in East and Southern Africa and will force more women to resort to unsafe abortion, leading to increased maternal mortality. Expanding the gag endangers women and girls who have benefitted from a portfolio of services – including emergency obstetric care and antenatal community-based care.
Health GAP will release a deeper analysis of the new policy at a later date following an extensive review of the new information.