“The sad reality is that President Trump’s list of “successes” harm women and girls—especially those in the developing world—the most:
Imposition and Expansion of the Global Gag Rule
“President Trump and members of his administration—especially Vice President Mike Pence—like emphasizing their efforts to “protect life” However, on January 23rd, 2017, two days after millions of women around the world rallied in opposition to his administration’s anti-woman rhetoric and the policies of like-minded politicians, Trump imposed and dramatically expanded the Global Gag Rule (GGR) to include all of U.S. global health assistance. This expansion targets the most effective, qualified and trusted health organizations in the more than 60 low and middle-income countries that benefit from U.S. global health assistance.
The Global Gag Rule threatens the work of health care providers who ensure access to needed and comprehensive services. There is no evidence that this policy has ever reduced the incidence of abortion globally. We know from previous iterations of the policy that unintended pregnancies and deaths due to unsafe abortions increase when it is in effect. While we are in the early stages and full impact of the policy will not be known for some time, we have already seen signs of the GGR’s impact. These include, but are not limited to, health care providers being forced to cut services, increase fees and even close clinics altogether.
Defunding the United Nations Population Fund
There were several humanitarian crises in 2017, including the continued flow of Syrian refugees into Jordan and other nearby countries; famine in Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen; hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fleeing persecution in Myanmar to Bangladesh; as well as countless natural disasters. These crises did little to prevent the Trump-Pence administration from eliminating the U.S. contribution to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), nor did they motivate Congress to reverse this decision. The U.S. is one of the largest contributors to UNFPA, the principal multilateral organization working to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights around the world, as well as the primary supplier of reproductive health supplies globally and provider of health services to women and girls in humanitarian settings. Eliminating UNFPA funding jeopardizes the world’s most vulnerable girls and women, particularly those in crisis situations.
During conflict, natural disasters and other emergencies, displaced women and children experience heightened vulnerability to unwanted pregnancies, rape, sexual exploitation, and early and forced marriage. In response, UNFPA sets up safe spaces; ensures the availability of emergency reproductive health kits, which include supplies for safe childbirth, rape management, and prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted infections—including HIV; and trains staff to
provide care to crisis-affected women and adolescent girls. There is no question that the elimination of U.S. funding for UNFPA puts the health and rights of millions of girls and women at risk.
Decreased Global Health Leadership and Funding
The United States serves as the linchpin of global health, development and humanitarian assistance. Continued U.S. leadership in providing strong global health funding and supportive policies plays an essential role in incentivizing action on health for developing countries with competing development priorities. We know that U.S.-funded programs interface with domestic politics in developing countries to create incentives for governments to take action and ownership on health issues. These programs also protect U.S. citizens by helping to reduce the spread of pathogens such as Zika, influenza, and Ebola, and ultimately increasing global health security.
Although U.S. foreign assistance accounts for less than one percent of the federal budget, it saves millions of lives every year and has far-reaching impact through economic growth, democratic governance and improved gender equality. Yet, President Trump’s first budget included massive cuts to global health and a complete elimination of all funding for one of the most effective interventions in the history of public health—family planning and reproductive health programs. An estimated 303,000 women in developing countries die each year from pregnancy-related causes, and unsafe abortion continues to be a major cause of these unacceptably high maternal mortality rates. If the funding cuts to global health assistance proposed by the Trump-Pence administration were enacted, there is no question that the lives of millions would be put at risk, global poverty will increase exponentially, and incalculable goodwill towards the US will be lost (provided President Trump’s own gaffes don’t eviscerate that goodwill first).