President Trump swung U.S. global policy on family planning sharply to the right Monday, reimposing a ban on government support for international aid groups that provide or counsel women on abortion services.
The move to reimpose the so-called global gag rule, a longtime priority of abortion opponents, was one of the new president’s first executive orders.
It continues what has become something of a ritual in presidential politics over the past three decades. First imposed by President Reagan in the 1980s, the restriction was lifted by President Clinton in the 1990s.
It was reimposed again by President George W. Bush after he took office in 2001 and then overturned by President Obama shortly after his 2009 inauguration.
Trump drew swift praise from abortion opponents, who have made changing the policy a top priority and provided Trump critical support during the election, despite his past support for abortion rights.
“By redirecting taxpayer dollars away from the international abortion industry, President Trump has reinstituted life-affirming protections for unborn children and their mothers,” said Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who co-chairs the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus.
In 1984 Reagan first instituted the rule, also known as the "Mexico City policy," after the location of the U.N. conference where the policy was unveiled. It stated that the U.S. government would not contribute to groups that "perform or actively promote abortion as a method of family planning in other nations."
But global health advocates have long criticized the restriction as imperiling women's health, particularly in developing nations.
In practice, they say, the gag rule effectively prevents nongovernmental organizations working in the developing world from referring women to safe abortion providers or even conducting family planning education campaigns that discuss the procedure.
That, in turn, makes it more likely that women will seek unsafe abortions, which are a leading cause of death for women in many parts of the world.
Advocates for women’s health condemned Trump’s move.
“At the risk of women’s health and lives, Trump's global gag rule forces healthcare providers to face the difficult choice between receiving vital family planning funds and providing comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care,” said A. Tianna Scozzaro, who directs the Sierra Club’s work on gender and equity issues.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said Trump’s order returned the country to a “disgraceful era that dishonored the American values of free speech and inflicted untold suffering on millions of women around the world.”