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GOP lawmakers incite outrage as they push Trump to intensify attacks on women with global gag rule

GOP lawmakers incite outrage as they push Trump to intensify attacks on women with global gag rule
Michael Vadon

Reproductive rights and healthcare advocates on Friday decried a move by 60 Republican lawmakers encouraging the Trump administration to further expand the anti-choice global gag rule.

"This proposal by a group of infamously anti-woman, anti-choice Congress members is egregious to say the least," said Serra Sippel, president of the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE).

Thursday marked the three year anniversary of President Donald Trump reinstating the policy, which he expanded and rebranded with the euphemistic name "Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance."

The original version, as Planned Parenthood Global executive director Monica Kerrigan and Reproductive Health Kenya executive director Nelly Munyasia explained at Rewire.News Thursday,

was a bad/terrible/atrocious policy first implemented by the Reagan administration in 1984 that unfairly targeted family planning programs and blocked millions of women and youth from access to contraception that can transform their lives. The Trump-Pence administration dramatically expanded its unethical directive and used it to deny funding for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, nutrition, maternal health, family planning, and malaria.

But for lawmakers including Sens. Mark Lee (Utah) and Marco Rubio (Fla.), even that expansion didn't go far enough.

In a letter sent Thursday to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the Republicans urge the administration to withhold from U.S. non-government organizations (NGOs) federal foreign assistance if they don't "meet abortion-related program integrity standards at least as strong as those in effect for the Title X family planning program at home." Trump's Title X restrictions have been sharply criticized, as they bar groups from even referring women to another provider or counseling woman about the option of abortion or risk not receiving federal funding.

Serra Sippel, in her statement, said the lawmakers "are bad faith actors making bad faith legal and political arguments, with no knowledge of the real systems or harm they are invoking."

The letter points to several U.S. NGOs including Population Services International and Pathfinder International, which the lawmakers say are "involved in abortion activities overseas" and that received federal funds in 2018.

The named groups, said Sippel, "are some of the most prominent groups whose work over the decades have contributed to increased contraceptive access, decreased maternal deaths, and curbing the global HIV pandemic."

"The decades of progress that have been made in global health through the work of healthcare providers both U.S-based and abroad have been critical in saving thousands of lives," she added. "These escalating attacks on life-saving organizations that receive global health assistance is an affront to the U.S. citizens who expect our country to be a leader in providing health care around the world."

In a press statement accompanying the letter, Sen. Lee asserted that the Trump gag rule "has already saved and will continue to save countless lives across the globe." But a data sheet (pdf) out Thursday from CHANGE suggests that couldn't be further from the truth.

From the document:

  • One-third of 286 prime PEPFAR [President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief] implementing partners (IPs) surveyed by amfAR have reduced their HIV prevention and treatment services with widespread closures of HIV prevention and treatment outreach services for youth and clinical HIV treatment services for rural communities.
  • The expanded GGR applies to some Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) programs. Organizations that cannot comply have lost WASH money, which limits their ability to provide services such as hand washing promotion interventions, antimicrobial resistance activities, neglected tropical disease activities, and prevention and treatment of WASH-related illnesses.
  • Marie Stopes International (MSI) predicts that, as a result of the expanded GGR, 1.4 million women around the world will go without access to MSI services and care by 2020 which could lead to approximately 1.8 million unintended pregnancies,600,000 unsafe abortions, and 4,600 avoidable maternal deaths.

"The evidence is clear that the gag rule threatens the health, lives, and rights of the most vulnerable populations—the poor, young people, and LGBTQ people. This policy is not supported by any evidence base and threatens the efficacy of the U.S. government's $9 billion of investment to achieve global health impact," wrote Kerrigan and Munyasia.

The pro-choice Guttmacher Institute, in a Twitter thread Thursday with Population Connection Action Fund and the International Women's Health Coalition, highlighted the harms of Trump's rule and called for passage of the Global Health Empowerment and Rights (HER) Act, introduced last February, to permanently prohibit the rule.

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