Monday, January 23, 2017
TRUMP PROHIBITS ABORTION COUNSELING
UNITED NATIONS — President Trump reinstated a policy on Monday that originated in the Reagan era, prohibiting the use of United States foreign aid to health providers abroad who discuss abortion as a family-planning option.
United States law already prohibits the use of American taxpayer dollars to be used for abortion services anywhere, including in countries where abortion is legal. But this order, known by critics as the global gag rule, takes it further. It freezes United States funding to health care providers in poor countries if they include abortion counseling or if they advocate the right to seek abortion in their countries.
Coming as one of Mr. Trump’s first orders, it was likely to please the anti-abortion lobby at home. But critics say it also symbolizes the new administration’s defiance of the women’s reproductive rights movement, an important force in the weekend protest marches in Washington and other cities that followed Mr. Trump’s inauguration.
As for the order’s practical effects, health policy experts say restrictions on abortion services in the past have not led to a decline in abortion rates in countries that receive funding from the United States for reproductive health services, and they warn that those restrictions only heighten the chances of illegal, often unsafe, abortions.
The United States is the largest bilateral donor of reproductive health services abroad, according to the United Nations Foundation, which advocates greater support from the United States for the world body.
In recent decades, abortion rates have declined sharply in the richest countries, including the United States, where the rate has fallen to its lowest since the Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports women’s right to have an abortion. It has remained steady in the developing world since the early 1990s.
The impact of the order is likely to be felt beyond abortion services, which cannot be carried out with any federal funding, under a 1973 law known as the Helms Amendment and named after the former North Carolina senator Jesse Helms.
Critics say the order would hinder the ability of women in poor countries to access reproductive health services, including family planning, by severing United States funding to health clinics that offer a variety of services, including abortion counseling.
A study of 20 sub-Saharan African countries by Stanford University researchers, for instance, found that in countries that relied heavily on funding from the United States for reproductive health services, abortion rates rose when the Reagan-era policy was in place.
The World Health Organization says 225 million women in the developing world would like to delay childbearing but are not using contraception for a variety of reasons, including a lack of access.
“President Trump’s reinstatement of the global gag rule ignores decades of research, instead favoring ideological politics over women and families,” Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat of New Hampshire, said on Monday. “We know that when family planning services and contraceptives are easily accessible, there are fewer unplanned pregnancies, maternal deaths and abortions.”
The order revives what is known as the Mexico City policy, so named because President Ronald Reagan announced it in 1984 during a United Nations population conference in Mexico City.
It has been suspended by every Democratic president since then and reinstated by every Republican. Democrats in Congress have tried — unsuccessfully — to pass legislation that would scrap the policy. Ms. Shaheen said she intended to introduce similar legislation. With Republicans controlling both houses, it is unlikely to pass.
Mr. Trump’s pick for ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki R. Haley, made clear in her confirmation hearing last week that she opposed abortion, even as she said she backed support for contraceptive services in United States foreign aid programs.