President Joe Biden issued a presidential memorandum repealing the global gag rule on Thursday, a step in reversing anti-abortion policies implemented by former President Donald Trump that put women’s lives at risk around the world.
“Women should have access to the healthcare they need. For too many women today, both at home and abroad, that is not possible. Undue restrictions on the use of Federal funds have made it harder for women to obtain necessary healthcare,” the memorandum reads. “The Federal Government must take action to ensure that women at home and around the world are able to access complete medical information, including with respect to their reproductive health.”
The global gag rule, also known as the Mexico City Policy, bars the federal government from offering U.S. aid to any foreign health organization that also offers or provides information on abortion services. While multiple Republican administrations have implemented the rule, Trump expanded it multiple times as part of his crackdown on access to reproductive health care.
When the Trump administration implemented the gag rule in 2017, foreign health care organizations that depend on U.S. funding had to make an impossible choice: either take the integral funding but deny services their communities need or refuse U.S. aid and struggle to keep clinics open, risking a loss of lifesaving health care services to entire areas.
Biden vowed to repeal the global gag rule and promised to restore the U.S. as a champion of reproductive rights.
Biden’s presidential memorandum also directs the Department of Health and Human Services to consider repealing certain regulations under Title X, which provides affordable birth control, reproductive health care and other health services to people with low incomes. Trump slashed funding for the family planning program by about half during his tenure, which jeopardized care for 1.6 million patients, according to the pro-choice organization the Guttmacher Institute.
“[The global gag rule] unnecessarily endangers health, all the while trampling on people’s ability to protect their rights. Abortion is a human right. Full stop,” Tarah Demant, director of the Gender, Sexuality and Identity Program at Amnesty International USA, said in a press release.
“Rescinding the global gag rule is just the first step: Congress must now permanently repeal the global gag rule so that this destructive policy can’t be reinstated by the next president,” Demant added.
Trump’s impact on reproductive rights stands out among past Republican administrations because he expanded the global gag rule multiple times. Historically, the gag rule was only applied to the portion of U.S. funds that went to family planning services, but when Trump got into office, he expanded the rule to include restrictions on all global health funding ― not just dollars for reproductive health care. This means that the gag rule dictates what foreign NGOs can do with their own money, too, not just with U.S. federal aid.
In 2019, Trump again broadened the policy to cut aid for groups that donated to other organizations that mention abortion. Essentially, this move hindered NGOs from receiving money for essential services like access to clean water, sanitation services and HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis programs if those organizations also offered abortion services or information about abortion.
“Every version of the global gag rule has been destructive to people’s lives and their welfare. The version we saw from the Trump administration just amplified that destruction.”
Trump’s second expansion of the gag rule affected around $9 billion a year in foreign aid and cut integral assistance ahead of a global pandemic.
“Every version of the global gag rule has been destructive to people’s lives and their welfare. The version we saw from the Trump administration just amplified that destruction,” said Seema Jalan, the executive director at the United Nations Foundation’s Universal Access Project. “The rule destroyed entire health systems. Then you layer on top of it a pandemic the entire world was not prepared for. It just makes it that much more difficult to have your basic health care needs addressed.”
Despite the Trump administration’s consistent support of the gag rule, research shows the policy reduces access to contraception, which creates an increase in unintended pregnancies and actually leads to more unsafe abortions.
The global gag rule is just one of many anti-abortion policies left behind by the Trump administration. Just a month before the general election, Trump created and signed on to the Geneva Consensus Declaration, a 32-country coalition that states that “in no case should abortion be promoted as a method of family planning” and that undermines same-sex couples by reaffirming traditional family roles. The coalition, which breaks from the United Nations consensus, includes socially conservative countries the U.N. has accused of human rights violations.