In another disturbingly Orwellian move, Donald Trump followed up a statement claiming to "celebrate" Women's Health Week with an unprecedented expansion of U.S. policy that will severely damage women's health and well-being around the world.
Just in time for Mother's Day, Donald Trump released a statement marking "Women's Health Week" that might sound caring and wise, if you know nothing whatsoever about Trump and his administration.
Trump claims to "recognize the importance of providing women access to the best, evidence-based health information and care," noting that women are living "longer, healthier lives than their mothers," thanks largely to increased medical knowledge and research. And he states that "women should have access to quality prenatal, maternal, and newborn care."
And right on the heels of this doublespeak comes the news that Trump is planning to drastically expand the anti-abortion policy known as the Global Gag Rule.
The policy, which was reinstated by Trump just days after his inauguration, prohibits disbursement of financial assistance from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) for family planning services to any foreign organization that provides or even talks about abortion services to their patients. It has been rescinded and reinstated along party lines for decades, but as Laura Basset at Huffington Post notes, Trump is taking it much further than any of his Republican predecessors:
Trump’s plan, called Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance, goes much further than that. The policy applies the anti-abortion rule to $8.8 billion in global health funding furnished by the State Department, USAID and the Department of Defense, instead of only $600 million in family planning funding. This means that a clinic receiving U.S. assistance for HIV or Zika relief will lose all that money if it so much as gives pregnant women information about safe abortion care.
Potentially withholding vital funds for medical care related to serious illnesses such as HIV or the Zika virus, all in the name of burnishing anti-abortion bona fides, is mendacious and dangerous.
As Jill Filipovic recently wrote at Foreign Policy, the effect of the Global Gag Rule is "wide-sweeping and chilling" across many developing nations:
Family planning advocates from Washington, D.C., to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia worry that Trump’s Global Gag Rule will not only roll back many of the modest but critical gains African countries have made on safe abortion, but also the decade’s worth of progress in increasing family planning, decreasing maternal mortality, and promoting democracy and women’s rights more broadly.
"Murder does not mean just picking a gun or a knife and killing people," [Dr. Fred] Gbagbo said. "Denying someone their legitimate, rightful access to a service, as a health worker, is equally as murderous as killing someone." This is exactly what he and the organization he works for fear the Gag Rule will do.
Marjorie Newman-Williams, vice president and director of international operations at Marie Stopes, an international NGO that provides family planning and other reproductive services, explained that when the U.S. governments prohibits such organizations from informing patients about abortion:
[T]he most vulnerable person in the equation isn’t a legislator in Washington or a dedicated NGO employee. It is "a woman needing care because she’s had an unsafe abortion walking into a public health clinic that cannot speak about abortion because they’re taking U.S. money ... They will look that woman in the face and turn their back on her."
It is repugnant to claim that a policy that would have such vast and destructive impact — including the potential of a painful and wholly avoidable death — on millions of vulnerable, marginalized women is "pro-life," as though the only "life" with which one need be morally concerned is that of an unborn fetus.
Condemning millions of people to sickness, injury, and possibly death — including, in many cases, the death of the fetus which receives such disproportionate regard — is not only not pro-life; it is, in fact, anti-life.
This move by Trump may come as no surprise, after he and Mike Pence eagerly played their part in previous rollbacks of women's health care, and after Senate Republicans saw fit to put together a working group on their version of the House's health care repeal plan composed of 13 men and precisely zero women.
But it need not be surprising to be dismaying and infuriating that the White House is poised to endanger women around the world in service of the far right's die-hard anti-abortion agenda.
As Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) noted in a statement, this expansion of the Global Gag Rule "will undermine global health efforts and the reproductive freedom and economic security of women worldwide — and it makes President Trump’s blatantly false statement about concern for women’s health, issued just one day ago, all the more insulting and ridiculous."
And as Sasha Bruce, senior vice president of campaigns and strategy for NARAL, put it bluntly, Trump is "treating women’s lives like political bargaining chips, trading them away to shore up his flagging support." She added, "A man who was best known during the campaign for disrespecting and objectifying women clearly hasn’t changed his behavior despite wielding even more power."
Indeed, Trump seems eager to use that power for as much ill purpose as he can. "Pro-life" is a cruelly meaningless label, if one uses it to cover up compelled suffering.