FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - February 9, 2018
[NEW YORK] On Wednesday, the State Department released a six-month review on the impact of the Global Gag Rule (or as the White House calls it, the “Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance” policy.) This review is both limited in scope and extremely premature, as insufficient time has passed to assess the impact of the policy and draw conclusions.
“The reinstatement and expansion of the Gag Rule by President Trump in January 2017 was a cause of grave international concern as it drastically restricted US funding for abortion services,” says Akila Radhakrishnan, acting President of the Global Justice Center. “Donors around the world, led by the Dutch government, stepped up their efforts to try to fill the gaps but the sheer breadth of the expanded policy means that the gap will be impossible to fill and that there will be devastating consequences for women and girls around the world.”
The provisions of the Gag Rule were only included in new funding agreements and there has not been enough time for those agreements to take effect to draw accurate conclusions about its impact. The conclusions in the review have also already been contradicted by early impact studies by human rights and reproductive rights groups. Contrary to what the State Department says, these studies have found disruptions in health care systems, including likely reductions in essential sexual and reproductive health services.
The review does give a glimpse into the extent of the Gag Rule’s reach. Only three direct grantees and twelve sub-grantees of USAID have refused to comply with the provisions of the expanded policy. Of the 733 new global health contracts that included the Gag Rule, 728 have incorporated its requirements, demonstrating the inability to say no to US conditions. A study from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that approximately 88% of NGOs affected by Trump’s expanded Gag Rule would not have been impacted under previous iterations of the Gag Rule, which were limited to family planning.
Further, the impact of the Gag Rule cannot be isolated from other US abortion restrictions on foreign assistance, including the Helms amendment. Any further reviews must also consider the impact of these other restrictions in conjunction with and separate from the Gag Rule.
“Even while deeply flawed, the review demonstrates the lengths to which the Trump Administration will go to ensure that this harmful and dangerous policy is implemented as thoroughly and restrictively as possible,” says Radhakrishnan. “The study clearly documents the commitment of each affected department—State, USAID, Health and Human Services and Defense—to implement the policy. If the State Department is going to be releasing reports like this, they must be accurate and comprehensive so that we can have a full understanding of the harms of this policy so the US government can be held accountable for those harms.”
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