UNITED NATIONS – President Donald Trump reinstated a policy Monday that originated in the Reagan era, prohibiting the granting of U.S. foreign aid to health providers abroad who discuss abortion as a family-planning option.
U.S. law already prohibits the use of U.S. taxpayer dollars for abortion services anywhere, including in countries where the procedure is legal. But Trump’s order takes the prohibition further: It freezes funding to nongovernmental organizations in poor countries if they offer abortion counseling or if they advocate the right to seek abortion in their countries.
The freeze applies even if the organizations use other sources of funding for these services.
Trump and Vice President Mike Pence stated their opposition to abortion during the presidential campaign. Trump had signaled his intent to make the order one of his first acts as president, which pleased anti-abortion activists at home.
“We applaud President Trump for putting an end to taxpayer funding of groups that promote the killing of unborn children in developing nations,” Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee in Washington, the nation’s largest anti-abortion organization, said in a statement.
Critics said the order reflected the new administration’s disregard of women’s reproductive health rights, whose advocates were an important force in the protest marches in Washington and other cities after Trump’s inauguration.
It revives what is known as the Mexico City policy, so named because President Ronald Reagan announced it in 1984 during a U.N. population conference in Mexico City. Critics call it the global gag rule. Since Reagan, Democratic administrations have suspended the policy and Republicans have reimposed it.
Some women’s health advocates interpreted Trump’s order as a huge expansion of the policy. Adrienne Lee, a spokeswoman for PAI, a reproductive rights group in Washington, said the order would cut funding to “every program that falls under global health assistance.”
Asked at his first official briefing Monday what message the administration was sending by reinstating the policy as one of its first orders of business, Sean Spicer, the White House spokesman, told reporters that Trump had “made it very clear that he’s a pro-life president.”
“He wants to stand up for all Americans, including the unborn, and I think the reinstatement of this policy is not just something that echoes that value but respects taxpayer funding as well,” Spicer said.
Health experts say the policy has not led to a decline in abortions in the affected countries. Some research suggests that it has had the opposite effect: increasing abortion rates by forcing health clinics to close or to restrict contraceptive supplies because of lack of funding. Others say the restriction only heightens the risk of illegal and often unsafe abortions.
The impact of Trump’s order is likely to be felt beyond abortion services, which cannot be carried out with U.S. funding under a 1973 law known as the Helms Amendment, after the former North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms.
Critics said the order would hinder the ability of women in poor countries to obtain reproductive health services, including family planning, by severing U.S. funding to health clinics that offer a variety of services, including abortion counseling.
The International Planned Parenthood Federation said its partners in Nepal, Kenya and Ethiopia had lost U.S. funding the last time the policy was in effect, during the Bush administration. Because nongovernmental groups in those countries refused to accept the conditions of the policy, they were compelled to close clinics and offer fewer contraceptives, said Kelly Castagnaro, a Planned Parenthood spokeswoman.
A study of 20 sub-Saharan African countries by Stanford University researchers found that in countries that relied heavily on funding from the U.S. for reproductive health services, abortion rates rose when the Reagan-era policy was in place.
“When the policy comes on, fewer women get contraceptives in countries that depend on U.S. funding for family planning,” Eran Bendavid, the lead author of the study, said on Monday.
Castagnaro said the revival of the Mexico City policy could cost Planned Parenthood about $100 million in U.S. funding over the next four years.
In recent decades, abortion rates have declined sharply in the richest countries, including the U.S., where the rate has fallen to its lowest level since the Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights. Rates have remained steady in the developing world since the early 1990s.
The World Health Organization says 225 million women in developing nations would like to delay childbearing but are not using contraception for a variety of reasons, including a lack of access.
“President Trump’s reinstatement of the global gag rule ignores decades of research, instead favoring ideological politics over women and families,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., said Monday. “We know that when family planning services and contraceptives are easily accessible, there are fewer unplanned pregnancies, maternal deaths and abortions.”
Vicki Saporta, president and chief executive of the National Abortion Federation, a Washington-based advocacy group for abortion rights, said in a statement, “President Trump’s decision to reinstate the global gag rule will endanger already vulnerable women by further curtailing their access to accurate information and safe reproductive health care services.”
Trump’s order repealed one made by President Barack Obama when he took office in 2009, which had repealed the Bush version of the policy from 2001. In effect, Trump reinstated the Bush policy.
Democrats in Congress have tried, unsuccessfully, to pass legislation toscrap the policy. Shaheen said she wouldintroduce similar legislation. But with Republicans controlling both houses of Congress, it is unlikely to pass.
Trump’s pick for ambassador to the U.N., Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina, made clear in her confirmation hearing last week that she opposed abortion, but said she supported funding for contraceptive services in U.S. foreign aid programs.
Story topics: nation and world