On January 23rd, President Trump signed a presidential memorandum reinstating the Mexico City Policy, also referred to as the “Global Gag Rule”: a restriction first introduced by Ronald Reagan that denies federal funding to NGOs that provide abortions, offer abortion counseling, or advocate for abortion rights in other countries. Arriving one day after the forty-third anniversary of Roe v. Wade and two days after women around the globe joined in Women’s March protests, this decision served as a cold, stark reminder of President Trump’s stance on reproductive health and rights abroad.
While not entirely unexpected—in November 2016, experts were predicting that President Trump would reinstate the Mexico City Policy as early as his first or second day in office—the reinstatement is nonetheless a blow to reproductive rights advocates. Not only does the policy negatively affect access to reproductive health services, it continues a trend of unpredictable funding commitments from the U.S. government that threaten NGO operational efficiency.
Beyond the reproductive health ramifications (e.g., decreases in access to contraception), the consequences of the policy’s reinstatement include increased instability and tension between the U.S. government and the international NGO community. With derisive tweets aimed at international bodies like the United Nations and a campaign that praised “America First” over foreign aid, President Trump has already failed to make global health a priority during his electoral race and early days of office. The reinstatement, while anticipated under a Trump presidency, further solidifies this position and contributes to a history of unreliable aid for foreign reproductive health efforts.
Since its inception in 1984, the Mexico City Policy has been treated as something of a political football, seized upon by opposing parties from one administration to the next. From Ronald Reagan’s initial introduction, to the repeal by President Bill Clinton, to the reinstatement by President George H. W. Bush, to the revocation by President Barack Obama, each new president has declared his position on the Global Gag Rule early in his presidency. This back and forth has led to uncertainty, as international NGOs dependent on USAID funding must choose between reformulating their policies and practices and refusing funding with each electoral race. And while President Trump might applaud unpredictability as a sign of strength in international relations, at an organizational level, volatile funding streams force organizations to lay off staff, lead to start-stop operations, and produce higher transaction costs.
Despite this bleak outlook for international reproductive health over the next four years, there do exist avenues for opposition to the Mexico City Policy aside from NGOs seeking out alternative sources of funding: legislation and advocacy. Already, Senator Shaheen (the only woman on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee) has spoken out against the policy and declared her intention to introduce bipartisan legislation that will permanently repeal the Global Gag Rule—thus eliminating the unpredictability tied to USAID funding for international NGOs providing or advocating for access to a range of reproductive health services once and for all. And if that legislation fails, what about advocacy options? Given the passion on display last weekend at the Women’s March on Washington, there is hope that grassroots movements will continue to voice their concerns about Trump’s most recent memorandum.
The views reflected in this expert column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent those of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law or Georgetown University. This blog is solely informational in nature, and not intended as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed and retained attorney in your state or country.