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Imagine 21,000 women. If that’s difficult, imagine Madison Square Garden, where the New York Knicks play. Imagine every seat is filled with a woman, and imagine it’s an all-woman basketball game being played with female coaches, refs, scorekeepers, and announcers. Okay, that’s about 21,000 women. Now imagine that a bomb gets dropped on the Garden, obliterating everyone. There! That’s basically what Donald Trump just did when he signed an executive order called the Global Gag Rule.
In 1984 — the year, not the book, though it’s related — Ronald Reagan enacted The Global Gag Rule. It’s also known as the Mexico City Policy because it was announced at a UN conference there. The policy states that the United States won’t offer any reproductive health funding to non-governmental organizations that even mention abortion as an option. Not just perform abortions, but talk about abortions as a viable form of healthcare.
That’s why it’s a gag rule — it literally shuts down the freedom of speech of any NGO that receives US federal money, despite the fact that the subject matter is legal in the United States and may be legal in the country where the NGO is located.
Every Democratic president since then has rescinded the policy, and every Republican has reinstated it. So it wasn’t very surprising that Donald Trump did so as one of his first acts as president. He’s already enabling Congress to destroy the Affordable Care Act and leave thousands of Americans without insurance, plus defunding Planned Parenthood to stop poor women from accessing cancer screenings and other basic healthcare. So thousands of Americans will die from his health-related policies — it’s only fair that he should contribute to the deaths of foreign women as well.
While it wasn’t a shock that he was reinstating the policy, it IS noteworthy that he took additional steps to make the gag rule much crueler and more deadly. Previously the ban was on reproductive health funding, but now the rule applies to absolutely all funding from any agency in the US. Previously, it involved about $600 million in aid. Now it’s about $9 billion. That’s $9 billion in much-needed aid that organizations now have to decide whether to give up or to stop telling women about their legally-available reproductive healthcare options.
To put this into perspective, imagine if we tried that with any other legal but regulated activity in the United States. Imagine if no government aid could go to any organization that mentions that opioids can treat pain. Or any organization that mentions driving a vehicle. It’s a disgusting, unbelievably dangerous way for the Religious Right to continue to put women’s lives in jeopardy even though abortion is still somewhat legal in the US. It’s anti-woman, it’s anti-science, and it’s anti-American, if you at all value the first Amendment.
And experts estimate that the gag rule lead to an increase in abortions in developing countries, since more women will be left without any kind of contraception or reproductive health education. That’s what researchers for the World Health Organization found happened in sub-Saharan Africa when George W. Bush reenacted the gag rule. But of course, the World Health Organization may now have trouble performing important studies like this, because they now stand to lose about 1/6th of their funding because they discuss abortion.
As I’ve mentioned time and time again, making abortion less accessible doesn’t stop women from having abortions. It stops them from having safe abortions. There aren’t fewer dead “babies” — there are more dead women. And one of USAID’s largest family planning organizations estimates that the gag rule will lead to an additional “6.5 million unintended pregnancies, 2.2 million abortions, 2.1 million unsafe abortions” and yes, “21,700 maternal deaths.”
I don’t really have much of a call to action here. Fuck Donald Trump. Fuck fascism. I hope you marched Saturday if you could, and I hope you are calling your representatives, and I hope you are punching Nazis, and I hope you are safe.