President Donald Trump just reinstated the Mexico City Policy, which some people call a “global gag rule” on abortion. The federal ban prevents U.S. money from funding international health organizations that offer abortions—even if U.S. dollars aren’t paying for abortion-related services. The ban was introduced by former president Ronald Reagan back in 1984, and it’s been rescinded and reinstated many times since then.
We know how confusing politics can get, so we’ve boiled everything you need to know about the Mexico City Policy into four bullet points. Read on to learn more about this global gag rule and why it matters.
1. Its called the “gag” rule, because it prevents federal funding from going to international family planning providers that so much as mention abortion as an option for women seeking reproductive healthcare services.
In short: Reagan’s Mexico City Policy told international health organizations that they had to follow certain guidelines if they wanted to receive U.S. funding. If a health care provider didn’t meet the criteria, it couldn’t get U.S. money—end of story.
One of these guidelines was that the organization couldn’t offer abortions. Organizations also couldn’t provide abortion-related information to their patients, offer referrals to other health care providers who perform safe abortions, or advocate for expanding legal abortion access in their countries. So abortion providers had to make a tough decision: stop offering abortion-related services or accept a cut in funding. Some abided by the new rules, but others—like the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) and the Planned Parenthood Association of Zambia—took the funding cut. The IPPF lost more than 20 percent of its funding when the rule was introduced in 1984.
Worth noting: The gag rule only applies to nongovernmental organizations. So health organizations like the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief are exempt.
2. Donald Trump didn’t introduce the global gag rule—he just reinstated it.
Again, this global gag rule isn’t anything new. Reagan introduced the Mexico City Policy in 1984, and the rule has been on and off ever since. In 1993, Bill Clinton rescinded the rule, calling it “excessively broad.” But George W. Bush reinstated it in 2001. Barack Obama rescinded it again in 2009. And Donald Trump reinstated it again this month—continuing this partisan pattern.
3. The U.S. spends $600 million on international family planning annually, but none of that funds abortions.
Each year, the U.S. provides about $600 million to international family planning services. This makes it possible for 27 million people to access contraception, and it prevents about 11,000 maternal deaths annually. And none of that money is spent on abortions. This is thanks to the Helms Amendment, which passed in 1973. The amendment says that U.S. tax dollars cannot fund abortions—meaning none of that $600 million can go toward providing abortions anyway.
4. Critics say the gag rule cuts off access to things like birth control and condoms, too—which only leads to more unintended pregnancies.
The Guttmacher Institute estimates that with every $10 million decrease in U.S. funding given to these international organizations, 440,000 fewer people would receive contraception. That would translate to 95,000 more unintended pregnancies, 44,000 more unplanned births, 38,000 more abortions (30,000 of which would be unsafe), and 200 more maternal deaths would occur. Why? Because organizations that provide abortions often offer a range of other services—like contraception. And if their funding gets cut, they have less money to put toward contraception access.
“Providers are forced to choose between taking U.S. foreign aid for family planning or providing women with all the reproductive health care [services] they need,” Debra Hauser, Advocates for Youth president, tells SELF. “Either providers will have less funding to offer women modern methods of contraception, or they will be unable to provide them information, referral or abortion care. If providers choose to continue offering women all of the services they need, they will not be able to receive U.S. family planning foreign aid—[meaning] women will lose access to modern contraception, and the number of unintended pregnancies may rise.”
5. History has shown that when the gag rule is in place, abortion rates actually do increase. So if history is any guide, the rule is counterproductive—and leads to women dying.
A World Health organization report revealed that after Bush reinstated the global gag rule in 2001, Sub-Saharan Africa saw higher abortion rates. The rule reduced contraceptive access, causing more unwanted pregnancies that women decided to terminate. And PAI studies have shown that each time the gag rule is reintroduced, more women in developing countries have unwanted pregnancies or suffer the consequences of unsafe abortions (death or injury).
In every society throughout history, women have sought to end pregnancies they did not want,” Hauser says. “This can be done safely with the help of modern medicine, or we can leave women and girls to fend for themselves.” And Hauser explains that this kind of legislation hurts marginalized women the most. “Those with money can find their way to a country where abortion is available,” she says. “Those without are left to use unsafe methods of abortion…Needless to say, these methods can be dangerous, leaving a woman with a punctured uterus or an infection.” Hauser notes these consequences can lead to infertility or death.
Though this rule isn’t anything new, history shows it will impact women’s health on a global scale. Feeling motivated to act? There are tons of ways to make your voice heard. SELF’s resources on finding activist opportunities and getting involved in policy decisions are great places to start. And if you’re passionate about women’s access to reproductive health care in particular, you can also consider: donating to the Center for Reproductive Rights, volunteering for NARAL Pro-Choice America, donating to the Reproductive Health Access Project, or volunteering for Planned Parenthood.
Also: Trump’s Victory Has Some Women Considering IUDs