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Study: The White House’s international aid cuts could cause millions more abortions by 2020

AP Photo/Stephen Wandera
Family planning services are being cut around the world because of the global gag rule.
  • Annalisa Merelli
By Annalisa Merelli

Senior reporter based in New York City

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Like George Bush and George W. Bush before him, Donald Trump wasted no time reinstating the 1984 Mexico City Policy, or Global Gag Rule (GGR). Under the pleased eyes of a group of male advisors, he signed the proclamation on his second day as US president, cutting funding to international organizations that offer abortion services, referrals to abortion providers, or information about abortions. Ironically, one of the most striking consequences of the rule is a rise in number of abortions—and overwhelmingly illegal ones.

On June 5, the Center for Gender and Health Equity (CHANGE) published an evaluation of the policy’s impact, comparing it to prior iterations of the same rule. Its analysis shows that Trump’s version of the rule is the furthest-reaching in history; in addition to cutting funds for reproductive health organizations, the new rule also cuts funding to other types of health organizations.

A large number of international organizations rely primarily or exclusively on USAID to finance some or all of their programs; up to $8.8 billion could be lost from health aid around the world. The broadness of the cuts have already forced nonprofit organizations and clinics to scale back other important services unrelated to abortion, such as HIV/AIDS prevention and programs to contain Zika’s effect on fetuses. One Mozambique organization had to cut its STD consultations from nearly 7000 last summer to fewer than 1000 in the following trimester.

Organizations can continue to receive funds if they offer abortion counseling or services exclusively in cases of rape, incest, or life-threatening conditions for the mother, although they sometimes shy away because of the complex paperwork involved in demonstrating their compliance. CHANGE found some confused health practitioners also fearful of offering permitted services like contraceptive care.

According to findings by Marie Stopes International (MSI), a large pro-choice organization working in 37 countries, quoted in the report, by 2020 the impact of the gag rule will result in 6.5 million undesired pregnancies, and 2.2 million abortions. Both are the consequence of a reduction in overall reproductive services, including contraception consultation or emergency contraception.

The US joined the UN consensus on reproductive rights in 1995, which states that abortion should be safe and accessible where they are legal. However, the agreement isn’t legally binding, and the Trump administration has displayed a strong ideological stand against reproductive rights.

Numerous studies have found that outlawing or discouraging abortion rarely leads to a decline in the number of abortions—though it does increase the percentage of illegal, unsafe “coathanger” abortions. MSI estimates that over 21,000 women in its area of intervention will die of pregnancy-related causes, because abortion was not available. According to the UN, unsafe abortions lead to 13.7% of all maternal deaths.

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