Yesterday, Trump signed an executive order reinstating the rule first put into place by former president Ronald Reagan in 1984, and repeatedly repealed and restored by successive administrations ever since.
The law, known as the ‘global gag rule’ by critics, forces foreign NGOs to chose between providing information on or performing abortions and much-needed US dollars.
The US is one of the world’s biggest financial backers of family planning services. In the 2015 fiscal year, it contributed $638m to such activities, according to data on the US development agency’s (USAID) website.
These funds could not have been used to pay for abortions under a federal law that is in place regardless of the status of the ‘global gag rule’.
However, since former president Obama last repealed the rule in 2009, US aid could be provided to organisations that performed abortions (with non-US funds), provided abortion-related advice or counselling to women or lobbied foreign governments on abortion issues – as of today, that is no longer the case.
Trump’s executive order goes even further than other presidents have in the past, stating the “requirements of the reinstated memorandum” should be extended to all US “global health assistance furnished by all departments or agencies”. Previously, the rule has only been applied to USAID and the State Department.
Campaigners are now concerned that Trump’s move could presage an immanent challenge to the precedent set in the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court case that formed the basis for legal abortions in the US.
Overseas, many have argued the policy will increase the rate of abortion by limiting access to contraception and endanger women by forcing them to use unsafe routes to end their pregnancy.
Vicki Saporta, president and chief executive of the National Abortion Federation, said the “draconian policy” also threatens clinics that offer a range of other health services in addition to family planning.
The loss of funds they could endure has in the past been not only been “devastating” for millions of women, but meant that “children have not been immunised, couples have not been able to receive HIV testing and treatment, and families have not been able to access malaria services”, she said.
In a statement, the International Planned Parenthood Federation agreed that the rule’s reinstatement will result in “countless” cases of needless harm and death and added it will reverse years of progress to increase access to essential services globally.
“It means IPPF will lose $100m for proven programmes that provide comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services for millions of women and youth who otherwise go without, including women suffering the burden of health and humanitarian crises.
“We cannot – and will not – deny life-saving services to the world’s poorest women.”
Many democrats also denounced the move, but it won equal praise from influential pro-life figures, officials and many Republicans.
Jennifer Popik, federal legislative director at the National Right to Life in the US, applauded Trump for getting the “US out of the business of international abortion advocacy under the guise of family planning”.
Also yesterday, Trump moved to withdraw the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal currently under discussion between 12 countries spanning the Americas and Asia and the Pacific, representing 40% of the world’s economic output.
The US’s withdrawal came as no surprise, however. Trump had rallied against the TPP throughout his campaign, and pledged to pull the US out as soon as he took office.
The fact that he has kept his word here suggests the world can expect the same of his other trade promises, including cracking down on China and renegotiating the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement – the deal between the US, Mexico and Canada.
Trump was expected to sign an executive order yesterday to initiate the NAFTA renegotiation process. However, this was not published on the White House website, as was the case with the order on TPP withdrawal, the ‘global gag rule’, also known as the Mexico City Policy, and a federal hiring freeze intended to contain the size of the US bureaucracy.
Some of the TPP’s eleven other signatories – namely Australia – have signalled they would like to forge ahead with the deal anyway, while others, like Japan, are more dubious.
Again the move was met with mixed support. Republican Paul Ryan, speaker of the US House of Representatives, congratulated Trump for “wasting no time acting on his promises”.
But another influential Republican, John McCain, described it as a “serious mistake” that will close down opportunities for America and clear the way for China to shut the US out of the benefits of engaging with “one of the most economically vibrant and fastest-growing regions in the world”.