We all know there’s a lot at stake in this crucial political year, including a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body. All politics may be local, but the impact is global. The Trump administration, from Day One, has been systematically dismantling human rights and cultivating a culture of discrimination that doesn’t stop at our borders.
One of President Trump’s first acts was to impose the Global Gag Rule, which bans non-governmental organizations that receive U.S. funding from using their own funds to advocate for, share information on, or offer abortion services. Since first enacted by the Reagan administration, the Global Gag Rule has been revoked or re-enacted by the party in power. However, the Trump administration’s version is especially expansive and has massive implications for the health and wellbeing of millions of people living in developing countries.
Under Trump’s gag rule, organizations that provide counseling, referrals, services or advocate for safe abortion with their own funding are banned from receiving all global health funding from the U.S. government—almost $9 billion. This applies not only to funds for reproductive health, but to programs, for example, that include the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, as well as ones promoting maternal and child health. And last year, the administration further expanded the rule, restricting affected organizations from funding groups that provide abortion services and information, even though those organizations don’t get any U.S. aid.
The Global Gag Rule does stop women from seeking abortion. Women and girls risk their health and sometimes their life to end an unintended pregnancy. Tens of thousands of women and girls die each year from unsafe abortions, and millions more suffer serious, often permanent injuries.
Yet the Trump administration’s efforts to curtail reproductive rights don’t stop at the gag rule.
In March of last year, at the Commission on the Status of Women, the U.N.’s largest gathering of women’s rights advocates, the Trump administration chose to form an international coalition aimed at restricting access to sexual and reproductive health—particularly abortion—and to promote “traditional family values.”
In July, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the Commission on Unalienable Rights, which narrows the meaning of human rights to a conservative viewpoint and ultimately threatens—at a global level—reproductive health, sexual equality and the rights of LGBTQ people. And then in August, Pompeo slashed funding to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), claiming that UNFPA—the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency—was potentially involved in coercive abortion or sterilization practices, an allegation that UNFPA denies.
The global attack on reproductive freedom continued in November at a three-day summit in Nairobi that marked the 25th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development, where world leaders pledged to recommit to the consensus that reproductive health and rights are human rights. At that event, the U.S. expressed support for programs that respect and advance the rights of women and girls, such as combating gender-based violence, but then it undermined that position by siding with anti-abortion advocates when the special representative for global women’s health, Valerie Huber, announced that the U.S. would not compromise “the inherent value of every human life – born and unborn.”
Here’s where global meets local. The Trump administration’s international attack on reproductive rights mirrors what we see at the federal and local level.
Last year, the Trump administration enacted harmful changes to Title X, the domestic family planning program. Essentially, the policy aims to restrict access to abortion by barring health centers that receive Title X funds from making referrals for abortion care and forcing them to physically separate abortion services—facilities, staff and even accounting— from other services. Roughly four million people in the United States will be affected, many of whom are low-income women of color who rely on Title X-funded programs for subsidized care. It’s important to note that there has never been federal funding for abortions—this policy aims to make it even harder to get an abortion and targets Planned Parenthood in particular.
At the state level, anti-abortion lawmakers have stepped up their efforts restrict access to abortion services through state regulatory statutes ranging from so-called “TRAP” laws (short for “Targeted Regulations on Abortion Providers” aimed at shutting down clinics), to enforced waiting periods for women choosing an abortion.
Last year, Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed a controversial bill that attempted to criminalize health care professionals who provide abortion care and create another obstacle for people seeking services. The North Carolina bill was one of many state legislative attempts to restrict abortion
This week, the fight for reproductive rights played out in the U.S. Supreme Court, when the justices heard challenges to a 2014 Louisiana state law requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. If the court rules in favor of the law, it will give the go-ahead for anti-abortion legislators to pass similar laws in other states—all designed to shut down clinics and effectively ban abortion services.
Let there be no mistake, anti-abortion politicians and lawmakers want to control, silence and render women invisible. Their efforts, policies and proposals undermine human rights and are fundamentally undemocratic.
As Americans watch abortion access shrink under the Trump administration, we should remember the United States is an aberration in the global movement for women’s rights, including sexual and reproductive rights.
In the last 25 years, over 40 countries have liberalized their abortion laws. In 2018, Ireland voted to decriminalize abortion and the Democratic Republic of Congo legalized abortion. Last year, South Korea declared its 66-year-old ban on abortion illegal, Rwanda legalized its abortion law and in Mexico, the Oaxaca state legalized ending a pregnancy in the first 12 weeks. And just three days ago, on March 2, Argentina’s president proposed a bill to legalize abortion, which, if passed will be a significant breakthrough for abortion rights in Latin America.
There is, in short, a positive momentum around reproductive rights on the global stage and Americans—including North Carolinians—can be part of the global movement for reproductive freedom. We can vote our beliefs. We can vote for human rights. And our votes can signal our resistance—and our persistence.
Dr. Anu Kumar is the president and CEO of Ipas, an international women’s reproductive health and rights organization based in Chapel Hill.