A Global Health Advocate Explains Why Trump’s Anti-Abortion Ban is All Wrong
"Expanding the 'Global Gag Rule' Is A Death Sentence," says Margaret Butler
I woke up in the middle of the night screaming. Not because of a nightmare, or maybe, it’s the worst type of nightmare a mother could ever imagine: I was 18 weeks pregnant and six days earlier a prenatal screening test had come back positive for a devastating disease. If my unborn daughter survived pregnancy, I was told, she wouldn’t survive long once she was out of the womb. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t stop my mind from racing in angry loops of denial and anguish.
When my husband and I met with a genetic counselor we were told the diagnosis would need to be confirmed with an amniocentesis. If the final test came back positive, we were advised to have an abortion. It would be weeks until we knew the answer definitively. Desperate, I pressed the counselor to give me her honest opinion. What were the odds? Was there any hope? She wouldn’t (or couldn’t) tell me, but I knew by the look in her eyes that it was bad. I wept for my child and for my family. I wept for the pregnancy and child that I so desperately wanted.
The counsel she gave didn’t impact our decision to have an abortion but it did help me process my choices. It helped to know that we had options, that I had control over my body when it felt like everything else was completely out of control.
Unfortunately, for many women around the world, that basic right is now in jeopardy. On Monday, one day after the 44th anniversary of Roe Versus Wade, Trump expanded the “Global Gag Rule” on abortion (otherwise known as the “Mexico City Policy”). The rule, which was first created by Reagan in the 1980s, prevents funding from the United States from going to any foreign health organizations that provide, or even mention, the word abortion. When Trump originally reinstated the rule (which was rescinded by Obama) the policy applied to about $600 million in family planning money. As of this week, however, Trump expanded it to cover global health funding coming from the State Department, USAID, and the Department of Defense as well — affecting nearly $9 billion in funding aimed at combating HIV/AIDS, Zika, Malaria, and other health issues around the world.
Under the expanded bill, entitled “Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance,” clinics that treat these health issues will lose all of their funding if they provide any type of abortion counseling.
As a longtime health advocate working with young girls in Rwanda, I have seen what anti-abortion legislation can do to women whose life prospects are already severely compromised by poverty and famine.
I have seen a young woman who was raped by her father and forced to carry—and ultimately raise—the child that resulted from that abuse. At the time, abortion was illegal in Rwanda (it should be noted that the Global Gag Rule makes exceptions for cases of rape, incest or conditions endangering the mother’s health). I have seen a mother who walked miles to our health clinic with her malnourished child, only to watch him die in her arms before we had time to reach the hospital. I have seen far too many very young girls pregnant, their dreams crushed.
I have also had the privilege of witnessing healthcare miracles. I’ve seen quadruplets born in a rural village in Rwanda; I’ve seen HIV transmission prevented with proper counseling and support; I’ve seen how educating young women about their sexual reproductive health can drastically reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies.
Here’s the irony: We know that limiting access to abortion services actually increases the rate of abortions. The new policy will make it more difficult than ever for women in the developing world to find and use contraception. This will lead to more reliance on abortion as a method of preventing unwanted births.
But still, our government continues to paint abortion as a black and white issue of right versus wrong. They believe the choice shouldn’t be in the hands of the mother and father but in the hands of the United States Government. Women, men and vulnerable children around the world who are already barely surviving will now have their healthcare ripped away.
“Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance” doesn’t protect anyone, in fact, it’s a death sentence.
How You Can Help
One of the easiest ways to lower the risk of maternal mortality is to keep a girl in school. For just $42 a month, Komera helps the most vulnerable young women in rural Rwanda continue their education at secondary school and gain access to opportunities to build a better life. To learn more, or make a donation, check out www.komera.org
 Eran Bendavid et al., United States aid policy and induced abortion in sub-Saharan Africa, 89 WORLD HEALTH ORG. 12, 873-880 (2011)