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Abortion is a Human Right

January 29, 2017

The “Global Gag Rule” turns back the clock on human rights world-wide. 

Abortion as a human right has been affirmed by the United Nations since 2005. And, in direct violation of this fundamental human right, President Donald Trump reinstated and expanded the “Global Gag Rule” or “GGR” also known as the Mexico City Policy. The Global Gag Rule means, among other things, that an organization that even talks about abortion isn’t allowed to receive US funds. Think about that!

The GGR was first introduced by President Reagan in 1984 to restrict spending taxpayer dollars on abortion. Since then, this policy has resulted in a loss of health care for millions of women globally, especially poor women in developing countries who are dependent on US-based aid. President Obama rescinded the GGR in 2009. Trump’s reinstatement of the Global Gag rule is an unequivocal attack on women worldwide, and the human right to health care.

The GGR does far more than allocate US taxpayer dollars. Federal spending on abortion is already restricted by the 1973 Helms Amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act. The GGR goes further, prohibiting US funding for organizations that provide comprehensive family planning services, which includes even the discussion of abortion. Foreign NGOs are required to certify that the organization does not “provide abortion services, counsel or referrals for abortion, or advocate for the liberalization of abortion laws with non-US funds as a condition of receiving assistance from the U.S. Government.” This neo-colonial policy not only dictates US spending, but the activities of foreign health care providers, often in areas where such care is desperately needed.

President Trump has now expanded this policy to all global health assistance programs provided by the US government. Organizations receiving US funding for maternal and child health, nutrition, HIV/AIDS, infection disease, malaria, tuberculosis and neglected tropical disease are now all beholden to this doctrine. US-based NGOs may pursue funding through private or non-US sources for activities restricted by the GGR. However, foreign NGOs are beholden to these expanded restrictions, even if such activities are not funded by the US. Trump’s GGR will impact 16 times the amount of funding impacted by previous iterations.

The reinstatement of the GGR comes at a time when abortion is firmly understood as a human right under international law. Abortion as a human right was affirmed in 2005 by the United Nations, through a landmark case in which Peru was directed to compensate a woman for denying her a medically indicated abortion. The UN concluded that Peru had violated several articles of the “International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights” and reparations were made for Peru’s “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” of the patient.

Under previous administrations, the GGR limitations served to defund crucial health services including  width=birth control and routine maternal health care. These limitations create more unplanned and forced pregnancies, and push many women to seek out high-risk illegal abortions. These violations have been well documented by Human Rights Watch. The impact of Trump’s GGR will be even more devastating. In fact, according to the World Health Organization roughly 22,000 women will die this year due to unsafe abortions and 8.4 million will suffer illness or injury because of the GGR.

The Woodhull Freedom Foundation fiercely opposes the Global Gag Rule and is working with our allies and with Indivisible Groups across the country to protect women’s lives and the human right to health care, including abortion information and services. We will not rest until the Trump Agenda is defeated and our human rights are secure.  

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(Bryan Woolston/Reuters)

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