‘Gag rule’ risks women’s healthcare, free speech

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

The day after President Trump took office, women in Washington, D.C. and across the globe marched for women’s rights. President Trump walked in on his first official weekday as President, took in the Oval Office, sat down in his comfy leather chair, and picked up his pen. He surrounded himself with seven other men, and with cameras flashing and reporters shouting questions, he used his pen as a weapon to strike women where it hurts the most — health care. He loudly reinstated the Mexico City Policy, or the “global gag rule,” which is detrimental to women’s health care in developing countries and violates the First Amendment right to the freedom of speech.

The global gag rule prohibits organizations from providing abortion-related information to patients, providing testimony or advocating for the legalization of abortion in countries where it is illegal, providing referrals to other organizations who can perform legal abortions, and providing legal abortions.
The organizations affected by this policy are those who provide family planning services, from contraceptives to maternal checkups and, in countries where it is legal, abortions. These organizations, under the Helm’s Amendment of 1973 are already prohibited from using federal aid to fund abortions.

The global gag rule affects only international non-governmental organizations. It was first introduced in an executive order by President Reagan, undone by President Clinton, reinstated by President W. Bush, repealed by President Obama, and now reinstated by President Trump.

The installation of the global gag rule will have disastrous impacts on the health of women in developing countries. Most organizations choose not to obey the global gag rule — and lose federal funding — as they see the effects of not being able to provide and discuss abortions far worse than the negative consequences that follow losing federal funding.

Not allowing these organizations to discuss abortions does not provide the proper health care women deserve. At a time when a woman dies from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth every two minutes with 99 percent of these deaths occurring in developing countries, according to statistics from the World Health Organization, access to proper prenatal care has never been more important.

Research from NARAL Pro-Choice America has demonstrated that the global gag rule forces organizations who reject the policy to close clinics and raise fees at the clinics that remain open. These organizations also have far fewer contraceptives at their disposal, increasing the number of unwanted pregnancies. Further research from Population Action International has shown that under the global gag rule, more women lose health care, bear unwanted pregnancies, die, or become disabled due to unsafe abortions. Adolescents are “especially vulnerable to sexual abuse and their pregnancies often result from forced sex, rape or incest” as stated in the Women and Health Learning Package: Unsafe Abortions and Unwanted Pregnancy.

The mass majority of Americans, about about 81 percent, believe abortions should be legal in a few cases, typically in rape, incest, or health of the mother. They should be appalled that their government does not even allow for discussion with clients about abortion in foreign countries where it is legal, or advocacy for the legalization of abortion in countries where it is illegal.
The global gag rule goes farther than just closing clinics and raising costs: It actually violates the First Amendment. The First Amendment states “Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech,” and while executive orders are issued by the President, they are regarding how to enforce laws passed by Congress, therefore binding them to the First Amendment. Not allowing members of these organizations to even advocate for legal abortions abroad is clearly a violation of the First Amendment. According to case precedent in the United States, the global gag rule would be found unconstitutional in court if it applied to organizations that operated within the United States. Censoring information and not allowing members of non-governmental organizations that help with international family planning to advocate for legal abortion in other countries also contradicts American policies that support women's rights and empowerment abroad.

Sean Spicer, the current Press Secretary of the United States, stated in a press conference last Monday, “I think the reinstatement of this [Mexico City] policy...ensures that we’re standing up not just for the life of the unborn, but for also taxpayer funds that are being spent overseas to perform an action that is contrary to the president.” But, as previously stated, the money already wasn’t going to fund abortions. The Constitution clearly states that the role of the presidency is to execute the laws and Supreme Court decisions, even if these are “contrary to the president” and his political agenda.

Women’s health care should be more than a political tennis match. The global gag rule should not be volleyed between presidents in a reinstated and revoked game. Trump’s reinstating of the global gag rule highlights that women’s health care will not remain a priority or even a concern the next four years. The Women’s March on Washington could not have planned for more perfect timing, and the time for women’s health advocates is now.