The Trump administration has made it clear that abortion is squarely in its crosshairs for the next four years. The new president has even taken aim at abortion overseas, signing an executive order on Monday reinstating the so-called Mexico City Policy ban on taxpayer money going to any NGO that performs or provides counseling on abortions abroad.
The move has drawn widespread criticism from international aid groups and health experts who say it harms public health. By cutting off U.S. aid, the policy forces many healthcare providers to close, taking away services from disadvantaged people who desperately need them.
“Trump’s Global Gag Rule will obstruct and destroy the work of healthcare providers who are often women’s main — and sometimes only — source for reproductive healthcare, and their entry point for receiving a wide range of primary healthcare services,” Suzanne Ehlers, the president of PAI, a global reproductive rights organization that opposes the policy, said in a statement.
The Mexico City Policy is hardly new, dating back to the Reagan administration. Since it was first adopted in 1984, the ban has been renewed by every Republican president and repealed by every Democrat. The long history of the policy means that the effect of Trump’s decision can be accurately predicted; according to numerous studies and public health organizations, the policy has had an overwhelmingly negative health impact worldwide, not just on abortion access but also on female and maternal healthcare generally.
The U.S. is the single largest funder of international public health programs, with about $2.9 billion of USAID’s $22.7 billion budget going toward them. And many of those programs would fail under the funding ban. In Kenya, for instance, USAID funding for health and HIV/AIDS programs is equivalent to half of the entire budget of Kenya’s Ministry of Health.
When President George W. Bush reinstated the ban in 2001, organizations in 20 developing countries lost USAID funding for contraception. In Kenya, half of the country’s 12 health clinics were forced to shutter, according to Engender Health, a global public health organization.
“Women in Kenya, especially the poor ones in rural areas, have lost access to family planning and related health services because of the [Mexico City policy],” Dr. Godwin Mzenge, executive director of Family Health Options Kenya, told researchers from International Pregnancy Advisory Services. “Clinics have been closed and services were terminated.”
The Mexico City policy has had a ripple effect as well. Bolivia’s Ministry of Health isn’t subject to the ban, but nevertheless it stopped administering emergency contraception and life-saving care for women who underwent illegal abortions after Bush reinstituted it, according to a report by the Center for Reproductive Rights.
Supporters of the policy say it will decrease abortions abroad. Sean Spicer, Trump’s press secretary, said the reinstatement of the policy showed that Trump was a “pro-life president.”
“He wants to stand up for all Americans, including the unborn, and I think the reinstatement of this policy is not just something that echoes that value but respects taxpayer funding as well,” Spicer said during a White House press briefing Monday.
If the past is any indication, the policy won’t necessarily spur a decrease in abortion rates — but it could cause an increase in unsafe or illegal abortions by women who no longer have access to the procedure. This in turn could cause a rise in deaths; unsafe abortions remain a leading cause of maternal mortality worldwide.