By Molly Hanson
Freedom From Religion Foundation
Earlier this year, President Trump ― circled by a half-dozen men in the Oval Office ― signed an executive order restricting the autonomy of women across the globe. The order, signed back in January, froze foreign aid or federal funding for international health organizations that provide abortions. The administration has just announced that it will be expanding this Global Gag Rule, calling it “Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance.” Sounds virtuous, right?
Here is the description of the new policy that a White House official gave to “The Brody File” on Christian Broadcasting Network News:
“The pro-life policy will apply to global health assistance funding for international health programs, such as those for HIV/AIDS, maternal and child health, malaria, global health security, and family planning and reproductive health.”
Christian broadcaster David Brody called the policy, “yet another evangelical victory under this administration.”
Yes, it is indeed another evangelical triumph! It’s a victory championed by the men in the White House who believe they possess a godly sense of morality and importance to make decisions that will directly impact, and devastate, the lives of women and girls in other parts of the world― places where access to health care, child care and contraception depend on financial aid provided by the United States.
So let’s take a look at what this triumph entails.
Under the new and evangelical-approved rules, which were drawn up by the State Department, organizations that even “promote” abortion will no longer receive federal funding. Promoting abortion essentially means talking to a woman seeking medical care about the fact that safe abortions exist as an option when it comes to family planning. Offering abortion counseling, advocating the right to seek an abortion, discussing outside options for how to safely terminate a pregnancy are all grounds for losing federal funding.
This “righteous” victory comes at a grim cost on the side of the defeated.
The new policy will have a catastrophic effect on hundreds of clinics in Africa and around the world that provide treatment for AIDS, fight against malaria, Zika and Ebola and provide safe childbirth practices. If any organization that provides these services so much as suggests to a woman that terminating a pregnancy is a legitimate medical option, it will no longer receive funding.
It was deeply unethical to take away critical health care resources from the organizations that assist the most vulnerable women in the world all because those organization also use their own money to provide abortions. U.S. taxpayer money has not been used to fund abortion services abroad since the Helms Amendment, which prevents American aid from being used to pay for abortions, was enacted in 1973. Now simply providing women with knowledge on how abortions can be done in a safe way to end a pregnancy is enough of a crime in the eyes of these theocrats to cut off the financial feeding tube keeping these organizations alive.As for the women whose lives depend on the organizations? Well, they’ve got a prayer. That’s about it.
New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen released a heated statement against the Gag Rule expansion:
“The Trump administration has chosen to ignore decades of research in favor of an ideological crusade that cuts off vital family planning services. President Trump’s actions have already had a chilling effect on international humanitarian efforts, preventing cooperation on a wide range of life-saving work to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, Zika and other preventable diseases.”
This is the Trump administration and its evangelist supporters delivering a fate to women across the world that puts them at the mercy of patriarchal reign. Under this new gag rule, women will be punished for the capability to become pregnant.
Worldwide health organizations should not be punished for providing abortions in the first place. A woman could need to end a pregnancy for any number of reasons. These organizations work in areas of the world where horrors like serial rape, incest, human trafficking, and pregnancies that equate to a death sentence are not uncommon. For example, when the Nigerian army rescued over 700 women and girls in 2015 who had been kidnapped and abused by the fundamentalist Boko Haram, it was reported that at least 200 were observably pregnant. No aid could be given to the victims to end these pregnancies caused by rape because of the Helms Amendment.
Naturally, some of the victims sought out illegal and medically dangerous abortions. Abortions will not stop so long as unwanted pregnancy is a reality. If health care organizations can not provide the abortions safely or even discuss safe abortions with women without the risk of losing U.S. federal aid, women will endanger their lives seeking medically unsafe ways to end unwanted pregnancies. Unsafe abortion accounts for 13 percent of maternal deaths ― about 47,000 deaths per year ― worldwide according to the World Health Organization.
Of course, the Gag Rule does not just hurt women who need abortions. Pregnant women will have scarcer access to safe prenatal care and childbirth. Contraception for women and girls trying to avoid pregnancy will be less available. And, of course, women who simply need general medical care, related to their reproductive system or not, may not be able to receive it because of a theological obsession in the United States with policing women’s bodies at home and abroad.
In the name of sanctimony, immeasurable suffering and unnecessary deaths will be prescribed to hundreds of thousands of women across the world.
That’s what “yet another evangelical victory” looks like. Earthly damnation.
FFRF is a national nonprofit dedicated to keeping state and church separate and educating about nontheism. For more information and a copy of our paper, Freethought Today, please click here.