On Monday January 23, one day after the 44th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Donald Trump took his first official step in taking reproductive rights away from women and signed an executive order that would block funding and foreign aid to any international nongovernmental organizations that provide abortion services to women seeking them or those that even offer abortion as an option to unwanted pregnancies. The Global Gag Rule, as it was dubbed (because that's exactly what it is), was first established in 1984 by then Republican president, Ronald Reagan; when Barack Obama took office, he rescinded the policy in 2009.
But the problem extends far deeper than access to abortions. It also means that these organizations who offer so much more than abortion, for example, sexual health education, regular STI screenings, and all other sexual health related services, will be denied funding simply because they offer abortion as a choice. This will have catastrophic results on so many levels.
"This will have an enormous impact on these providers and the women they serve"
"It is beyond comprehension that after women marched in the streets in more than 600 cities across the U.S. and the world this administration chose to reinstate the Global Gag Rule on one of its first days in office, forcing health care providers working in developing countries to choose between receiving U.S. global health assistance and providing comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care," Debra Hauser, President of Advocates for Youth, tells Bustle. "The Global Gag rule signed by Mr. Trump [on January 23] extends the impact of the Global Gag Rule to prohibit not only organizations that receive U.S. family planning funding from providing, educating about or referring for abortion services EVEN with funding from sources other than the U.S. government, but also effects those organizations receiving other global health assistance such as PEPFAR funds used for the prevention, treatment and care of HIV and AIDS. Providers must agree to not provide legal abortion services, information or referrals with their own money in order to receive U.S. global health funding. This will have an enormous impact on these providers and the women they serve, leaving too many and especially those living in poverty and those with limited access to other health providers, with little access to information, counseling, referrals, or services related to abortion care. Many will be left to fend for themselves and will turn to unsafe methods to terminate their pregnancies." How scary is that?
"Each and every day, 830 women die from pregnancy or childbirth-related complications," Hauser says. "Most live in developing or low-income countries where this policy takes effect. In fact, in low income countries complications from pregnancy and childbirth-related causes, including unsafe abortion are one of the leading causes of death for young women ages 15-19. Each year at least two million women undergo unsafe abortions and tens of thousands die from them. United States policies such as the Global Gag Rule are complicit in these deaths. This policy forces health care providers to withhold lifesaving information and services women need to make safe and informed decisions about the size and timing of their families. Those faced with an unwanted pregnancy that cannot see their way to having another child will turn to unsafe methods to terminate their pregnancies, ultimately putting their own health and lives in grave danger."
Between Trump's statement in March 2016 that women should receive “punishment” for getting an abortion, the mission to defund Planned Parenthood, and Monday’s decision to reinstate the Global Gag Rule, Trump’s previous claim that “Nobody has more respect for women than I do,” is just another falsehood, in a long series of falsehoods — I mean “alternative facts” — that Trump has spewed over the past several months.
"If you think 'that’s not me, why should I care?' — imagine a world where 225 million women in developing nations do not have control over their bodies."
So what do we do about the detrimental fallout of Trump reinstating the Global Gag Rule? Here's how we can help the women who will be affected by it most, according to Hauser and International Youth Leadership Council member, Liliana Ascencio.
1Realize This Is About You Too; It's About All Of Us
When something happens in other countries, especially in developing countries, it can be easy for some people to dismiss it as not being "their" problem. But that thinking isn't just one of privilege, but one of ignorance. What happens to our fellow human beings is our problem; we are all responsible for treating all people humanely and with the utmost respect.
"This is you, this is everyone’s problem. This will have an impact in your backyard and will change the reality of anyone with a uterus."
"While this issue does primarily touch international funding of reproductive health, this recent attack will be targeting the most vulnerable populations worldwide," explains Ascencio. "It will be jeopardizing the rights of people of color, low-income people, ethnic minorities and other vulnerable populations. If you think 'that’s not me, why should I care?' — imagine a world where 225 million women in developing nations do not have control over their bodies. This will stunt global economic growth, lead to significant increases in maternal and child death and usage of natural resources worldwide. Women globally will be stunted economically and socially. This is not isolated, our world is increasingly global and the limitation of women worldwide will have significant impacts worldwide. If we just let this one slide it is only going to get worse for us all. This is the first step in the Trump-Pence agenda which denies ALL women the freedom to make decisions about their health. This is you, this is everyone’s problem. This will have an impact in your backyard and will change the reality of anyone with a uterus."
2Contact Your Senator Immediately
Whether you're an American living in the U.S. or living abroad, get to work by contacting your senator and voicing your concern.
"Senator Jeanne Shaheen (Democrat from New Hampshire) will introduce the Global Health, Empowerment & Rights (HER) Act in order to permanently repeal the Global Gag Rule and lift restrictions on providers using non-US government funding to provide abortion education, counseling, referral and/or services for women in need," explains Hauser.
"Contact your senator and complain that the extension of the Global Gag Rule to all U.S. global health funding will have a huge negative impact on the health and wellbeing of women in low-income countries. Urge your Senator to support the HER Act to permanently repeal the Global Gag rule so that women’s reproductive health care services are no longer fodder in this game of political football. To call your Senator, contact the United States Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121. The operator will connect you directly with the Senate office you request."
You can't sit back and be angry about the world and the decisions Trump is making, without truly understanding what's going, the consequences of these decisions, and how you can help. The first step in helping the women who will be affected by the Global Gag Rule, as well as the people here in the States who will also be further marginalized by Trump's power hungry decisions, is by educating yourself.
"Realize that especially if you have lived a life of privilege, it is going to be a challenging process but it is important if you want to make a difference."
"Get educated. Start listening and critiquing the news that we receive," Ascencio tells Bustle. "Attend local events led by communities of color and listen. Reflect on your place in this society and how you have or have not been complacent in the face of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, xenophobia, etc. Maybe you don’t know what these words mean yet, but that’s all part of the learning. Realize that especially if you have lived a life of privilege, it is going to be a challenging process but it is important if you want to make a difference. If you are shy — there are amazing resources on the internet listen to podcasts like Another Round, Intersection, Best of the Left. Read books by activists of color. Spend time talking to your friends of color and hearing about their experiences. Lean into your discomfort and keep yourself to a high standard. Never stop learning and listening. Now is the time, speak up, fight back."
Once you've educated yourself, it's your responsibility to educate others. "In basic terms, the reenactment of the Global Gag rule eliminates the funding we are providing to countries abroad for reproductive health," explains Ascenio. "It jeopardizes care for HIV/AIDS, reproductive health, and all programs which impact women’s lives directly. Health professionals have now lost their right to educate, counsel and refer women in need to abortion services. It extends to most organizations receiving any health funding in 60 countries."
But unfortunately, this may only be the beginning. "This is a direct threat to women’s access to health worldwide and it is only the beginning of a long war waged by the Trump-Pence administration towards the most vulnerable populations with uteruses. It may seem like this is a women’s issue — but limiting access to women’s health effects us all. It limits the social, economic, and political developments abroad and jeopardizes our relations with other nations. Furthermore, it poses challenges to environmental and global health. More women will die from unsafe abortion, more children will die before they are one or during birth. These are proven facts; these are threats to us all."
5Share Your Abortion Stories
As a woman who got an abortion at the age of 27, I share my story every chance I get. Not because it's my favorite topic, but because it's essential to put a face to abortion. Although not every woman is comfortable discussing their own abortions, if you are, then consider doing it.
"Shame and stigma are the weapons anti-abortion proponents use to keep women from speaking about their abortion experiences with each other."
"Sharing your abortion story can be a powerful way to stand up for access to abortion care," says Hauser. "This administration and the anti-abortion proponents that surround them will continue to use shame and stigma to keep women from sharing their abortion experiences and speaking out against anti-abortion policies. But women in every country and all throughout history have sought ways to terminate pregnancies that are unwanted or mistimed. Shame and stigma are the weapons anti-abortion proponents use to keep women from speaking about their abortion experiences with each other."
Remember that you're not alone — and you can make a difference with your story. "Almost one in three women in the U.S. will have an abortion in her lifetime," Hauser says. "Sharing your story with your congressmen or with an organization like the 1 in 3 Campaign run by Advocates for Youth, helps to break the silence and shatter the stigma. Sharing real life abortion stories helps to build empathy and understanding about the complexity of women’s lives and the important role that abortion care has always and will continue to play in women’s lives. The only question now is whether we are going to let anti-abortion politicians push women back into the back alleys of yesteryear — sacrificing our health and lives for their political ideology."
6Donate Your Time Or Money
More than ever, as we've learned with the threat of defunding Planned Parenthood here in the U.S., these organizations that work tirelessly to provide sexual health related services need our help.
As Hauser tells Bustle, in the past both International Planned Parenthood and DKT International have refused to sign the Global Gag Rule and alter the services they provide. Because of this, they need funding; they need lots of funding. Hauser suggests contacting the local or international offices of both these organizations and find out how you can help, either financially or by donating your time.
Update on Jan. 25, 2017: A representative for DKT reached out to Bustle to clarify that it actually doesn’t receive financial aid from the United States. But Chris Purdy, CEO of DKT International, did say this:
”While DKT International does not currently receive government funding, the Global Gag Rule is counterproductive and impacts us all because it will likely result in an increase in abortions. The great irony in this is that more and more women who don’t have access to family planning are still going to get pregnant and will need an abortion. So, the very thing they are trying to prevent is most definitely going to increase and result in countless unwanted pregnancies, maternal deaths and dangerous, back alley abortions.”
For those of you who aren’t familiar with DKT’s services, the organization provides safe and affordable options for family planning, as well as HIV prevention in 21 populous countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, making up for almost 62 percent of the world’s population. In 2015 alone, DKT prevented over five million unwanted pregnancies and 13,000 maternal deaths. They also provided services to 30 million couples and provided 2.5 million abortions.
Either way, DKT can use your donations.
7Understand That Although This Is An International Matter Right Now, It's Going To Hit Home Very Soon
As Hauser points out, reinstating the Global Gag Rule isn't the only thing we should be contacting our senators about — there's much more to come from the Trump administration.
On Tuesday, the House of Representatives voted to approve H.R. 7 (No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act of 2017). "The bill is intended to make abortion unaffordable and push it out of reach for as many Americans as possible," says Hauser. "But we know that it will impact poor women and young women most."
According to a statement from Dr Willie Parker, Board Chair of Physicians for Reproductive Health, "If it becomes law, it would create burdensome regulations that could push all insurers to stop covering abortion. It also takes an unprecedented step to put politics into tax policy — effectively penalizing families and small businesses for having abortion coverage in their plans. We are deeply disappointed in the House’s passage of H.R. 7 and urge the Senate to reject it.”
Women's reproductive rights, the world over, are at stake. We can't sit idly by, close our eyes, and hope for the best. If you value your right to choose, then you should value that right for every woman out there. So take action. Do what you can. And if you're short on cash or time, then use your voice — at the top of your lungs.