US President Donald Trump’s recent executive order banning US government funding to international NGOs which promote abortion will, ironically, increase abortions, legal and illegal.
More 'backstreet' abortions
Family planning organisations in South Africa have condemned the so-called “Mexico City Policy” or global gag rule (GGR), saying it will hurt women in South Africa and around the developing world
Marie Stopes South Africa, an organisation which provides safe abortion care and other health services to women, predicted the GGR would force many more women to have abortions, including more unsafe “backstreet” abortions.
Andrea Thompson, the NGO’s Advocacy and Engagement Manager, said as a result of the order issued late last month organisations, including those who work with people living with HIV or women who are survivors of sexual violence, might fail to provide referrals and information about abortion care for fear of jeopardising their own funding.
“Others, including government departments, may misapply the policy to avoid delivering on women’s rights under the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act (amended 2008).”
Thompson said that Marie Stopes South Africa would not be affected directly as it did not receive US funding. That is because US government funding to international organisations which directly provide abortion services – like Marie Stopes – has been barred since 1973 under the so-called Helms Amendment. The GGR goes further by banning US funding to organisations which even suggest abortion as an option to pregnant women, or refer them to abortion services.
“This means organisations cannot engage with abortion in any way and still maintain US government funding, including offering much-needed preventative services like contraception.”
This would hurt other South African organisations which depend on US funding for the contraceptive services they provide, as well as branches of Marie Stopes International in other countries which provide much of the contraceptive services in the developing world.
Marie Stopes South Africa would also be affected, indirectly, by the GGR as it would make it difficult for it, as a safe abortion care provider, to partner with other US-funded organisations “and will thus threaten women’s access to services and even basic information about choosing a safe abortion provider”.
The overall effect of the GGR, in SA and elsewhere, would be to increase, not decrease, abortions and to force many more women to have unsafe abortions.
“This is one of the most misguided and heart-breaking impacts of this policy…” Thompson said.
“As an abortion provider we can confirm based on experience that when a woman is facing an unsupportable pregnancy she will ultimately end that pregnancy. We are failing women when we don’t provide them with the services and information they need to do so safely.”
No benefit to the GGR
The policy would also increase the costs of the public health sector to provide intensive emergency care when self-induced or backstreet abortions go wrong.
“It’s a dangerous and destructive policy that will inhibit the public health sector from being able to provide comprehensive care.”
“There is no clinical, social or financial benefit to the Global Gag Rule; it’s a political game played in Washington that gambles with the lives of women (largely low income women and women of colour) in the Global South.”
The GGR was introduced by Republican US President Ronald Reagan in 1984. Since then every Democratic Party president has revoked it and every Republican Party president has reinstated it.
But Thompson said Trump’s version of the GGR was more restrictive than all the others.
Marie Stopes International has estimated that the loss of its services during Trump's first term (2017 and 2020) could result in:
- 6.5 million unintended pregnancies
- 2.2 million abortions
- 2.1 million unsafe abortions
- 21,700 maternal deaths
However Liliane Ploumen, the Dutch Minister for Foreign trade and Development Cooperation and the Dutch NGO Rutgers, have launched a global fund, called 'SHE DECIDES', to try to replace the estimated US$ 600 million a year which will be lost because of the GGR.
Her government kicked off the fund with a donation of US$10 million.
Funded and staffed by SA government
She said the response to her call for funds - from other governments, NGOs and individuals - had been “beyond expectation. It is heart-warming and inspiring that so many people from so many countries are standing up for the rights of women and girls."
She Decides has launched a special bank account on its website, www.shedecides.eu, to collect donations.
The US embassy is still investigating exactly how Trump’s order will affect local organisations.
Embassy spokeswoman Cindy Harvey said: “South Africa’s health clinics are funded and staffed by the South African government in compliance with South African laws. Through various agencies, the US government funds South African organisations that engage to improve HIV and TB services in partnership with the government of South Africa and public health facilities. No US agency is currently funding abortion abroad, including in South Africa.
“During this period of transition, the US Mission in South Africa has not yet received guidance from the new administration with respect to these new policies, and any discussion of implications of such policies at this stage would be premature.”
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