Human Rights

Trump's Anti-Women Directives Are Even More Extreme Than Reagan's — And the Puritans

What the “gag rule” on abortion means for human rights organizations and the world.

Photo Credit: Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock

Unable (yet) to get a ban on abortions or family planning in the United States, the Trump administration has reached back to 17th-century Puritan culture and banned American aid to any international organization that provides abortions or even just talks about the procedure.

Not satisfied with that, the administration has cut off funds to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), using “alternative facts” to claim falsely that the agency supported abortion in China. And most recently, the administration struggled unsuccessfully to prevent the World Health Organization from declaring that women’s breast milk, not formula (produced by friends of the administration), was best for infants.

Barbara Crossette, writing for PassBlue, an independent digital publication covering the United Nations, noticed that State Department “documents reflecting universal values of human rights are being... [altered] to fit the Trump agenda. On April 20, in the most recent annual global human-rights report to Congress, which legislators have required by law, the phrase ‘reproductive rights’ for women has been excised and replaced by a section on ‘coercion.’”

“That word fits nicely into the (long proven false) claim by anti-abortion activists that the UN Population Fund supports forced abortion in China,” continued Crossette, a former New York Times UN correspondent. “This claim has cost the Fund, which is the most extensive global provider of family planning, all of its official US financial support.”

The United States cut some $70 million from its contribution to UNFPA, which promotes maternal health in 150 countries and does yeoman’s research on women around the globe. The agency is funded through voluntary contributions.

Most recently, the Trump administration campaigned strongly, if unsuccessfully, against a resolution by the World Health Organization at UN headquarters in Geneva. According to the New York Times, the administration threatened Ecuador with retribution on trade and military aid if it did not drop the resolution. The U.S. position aligned with formula manufacturers, the Times said. Ecuador withdrew its name, but Russia stepped in as a sponsor.

What Is the Global Gag Rule?

Republican administrations have always had a soft spot for the global gag rule or the “Mexico City policy” adopted by the Reagan administration in 1984 after an international conference on population in the Mexican capital. While GOP administrations have banned using foreign aid for abortion-related activities, the Trump administration goes much further. Now before foreign aid groups get any U.S. funds, they have to certify they do not provide abortions, counsel patients on abortions or advocate liberalizing abortion laws, among other requirements.

The United Nations does not advocate abortion in any country where it is illegal. But in horrific situations of rape and plunder, the “morning after pill” can be a viable solution (one of many contraception methods not available during Puritan or pilgrim times).

While the Mexico City policy applied strictly to family planning funds, the Trump administration has broadened it to global health assistance amounting to some $8.8 billion, according to Human Rights Watch.

Now also included are U.S. funds for HIV-AIDS, nutrition, malaria, maternal and child health and others, HRW said. Like Planned Parenthood, many of these programs and agencies screen for diseases as well as try to prevent unsafe abortions.

Horrific accounts of gang rape, killings and torture in South Sudan are disclosed in the latest United Nations report on the troubled country. At the same time the United Nations and other groups watch the results of Myanmar military’s campaign to obliterate the Rohingya minority through massacres and gang rapes.

Margaret Atwood, in her 2017 introduction to The Handmaid’s Tale, wrote that women were not an afterthought: “Without women capable of giving birth, human populations would die out. That is why the mass rape and murder of women, girls and children has long been a feature of genocidal wars, and other campaigns meant to subdue and exploit a population.”

“The control of women and babies has been a feature of every repressive regime on the planet. … Of those promoting enforced childbirth, it should be asked: Cui bono? Who profits by it? Sometimes this sector, sometimes that. Never no one," Atwood said.

This article was produced by Globetrotter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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Evelyn Leopold is a veteran United Nations correspondent, the chair of the Dag Hammarskjöld Fund for Journalists and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She is a writing fellow at the Independent Media Institute.