New York City–A coalition of physicians, AIDS activists, medical students, and women’s health and rights advocates plan to stage political theater in front of the globe outside Trump International Hotel to protest Trump’s global gag rule, which expands the policy restriction to all U.S. global health funding. The expanded policy will prevent health workers from providing basic health care services, will promote unsafe abortions, and will impede progress toward an end to the HIV pandemic.
Under the Trump administration’s global gag rule, foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that receive U.S. global health assistance for family planning, nutrition, HIV/AIDS, infectious diseases, malaria, tuberculosis, and neglected tropical diseases will be required to certify that they will not counsel, refer to, or even mention abortion as a condition of receiving assistance from the U.S. government. Previously, this policy applied solely to organizations that received family planning funds. The expansion will do even more damage, including endangering the progress made via the U.S. PEPFAR program, a flagship global health investment in fighting HIV in Africa and worldwide.
“Trump is turning yet more of America’s global health investment into global death dividends with a cynical maneuver—the unprecedented expansion of the lethal global gag rule to all of global health assistance. He has demonstrated once again that his cynicism, ignorance and hatred of women knows no bounds,” said Emily Bass, member of Rise and Resist.
“Trump’s dangerously broad global gag rule exposes the Administration’s gross incompetence when it comes to global health,” said Serra Sippel, President of the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE). “Women will pay the price for this unprecedented interference with global health systems. From blocking women’s access to skilled birth attendants, contraception, and safe abortion, to derailing efforts to prevent HIV infections among women and their newborns, this retrograde policy is a direct attack on women’s health and rights.”
Existing U.S. law (the Helms amendment) restricts U.S. foreign assistance dollars from paying for abortions as a method of family planning. Trump’s global gag rule goes beyond this harmful policy to restrict what foreign organizations can do with non-U.S. funds. Previous gag rules that applied only to family planning funds have contributed to the closing of women’s health clinics that provide basic health care, including HIV prevention and treatment. When health centers close, women go without care. International NGO Marie Stopes International, established in 1976 and operating in 37 countries, estimates that Trump’s global gag rule could result in 6.5 million unintended pregnancies, 2.1 million unsafe abortions, and 21,700 maternal deaths.
“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,” said Asia Russell, Executive Director of the Health Global Access Project (Health GAP). “Despite the White House’s spin, this is an unprecedented move that prioritizes a cheap political point ahead of the lives of women and girls around the world.”
“The Trump administration is calling its heinous, Orwellian global gag rule expansion ‘Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance.’ We’re here to call it what it really is – a promotion of death,” said Brittany Herrick, a member of Rise and Resist. “To willingly enact policies based on religious ideology in spite of evidence that more women will die is gross negligence.”
As part of the political theater, women carrying body bags and tombstones labeled with potential causes of death as a result of the gag rule will surround the globe that adorns Trump’s flagship New York hotel as health professionals watch, bound and gagged, prevented by the “gag rule” from providing essential care.
The action is sponsored by a coalition of domestic and international organizations, including Rise & Resist, Health Global Access Project (Health GAP), Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE), African Services Committee, International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC), ACT UP New York, AVAC, STOPAIDS (U.K.), Metro New York Health Care for All, Women’s Health & Reproductive Rights (WHARR) of #GetOrganizedBK, Just Treatment (U.K.), VOCAL-NY, and ACT UP London.
BACKGROUND ON THE GLOBAL GAG RULE
The U.S. has a long history as a leading donor and implementer of global health programs. For decades, U.S. leadership in global health has improved the health of individuals in developing countries and contributed to broader U.S. priorities for global development, foreign policy, and national security.
The expansion of the global gag rule by President Trump threatens to exclude some of the most effective health organizations in 60 low and middle-income countries. These are organizations that have the infrastructure, expertise and community trust in areas we must reach in order to achieve our global health goals. In some cases, they are the only health care provider serving a given community.
The impact of this policy is exponentially greater and more untenable given that the number of foreign NGO partners, many of them small, who receive global health assistance has increased as a result of USAID Forward, an initiative with a core mission of promoting sustainable development by supporting “institutions, private sector partners, and civil society organizations that serve as engines of growth and progress for their own nations.”
Without funding, these organizations won’t be able to provide HIV prevention, care and treatment services, provide integrated maternal health care with contraceptive services, or counsel women on their potential risks of Zika infection, among others.