How to revolutionize US policies on women’s health and rights globally

How to revolutionize US policies on women’s health and rights globally
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Three days after his inauguration, President TrumpDonald John TrumpForget the spin: Five unrefuted Mueller Report revelations Lara Trump: Merkel admitting migrants 'one of the worst things that ever happened to Germany' Financial satisfaction hits record high: survey MORE penned his first presidential memoranda. One of these reinstated the Mexico City Policy, better known as the Global Gag Rule (GGR). The policy obstructs women’s right to safe abortion by prohibiting non-U.S. organizations from receiving global health assistance if they advocate around, provide, educate, or counsel on abortion services as a method of family planning, even though these organizations use their own non-U.S. funds to do so.

Trump, however, took the policy further than past iterations: He expanded it beyond international family planning funds to include nearly all U.S. global health assistance.

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From preventing health care providers from offering HIV and AIDS prevention and treatment and cancer screenings, to damaging the patient-provider relationship, the policy (which Trump renamed Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance) does not protect life and, in fact, has been associated with severe health consequences for people all over the world. Some of these consequences have been documented, but many will take years to see.

This month marks two years since Trump signed the GGR. While there isn’t hope for this administration to end the policy, the new House of Representatives — who are more diverse and female than any class before them and a majority of whom are in support of sexual and reproductive health and rights — presents opportunities for change.

They’ve already begun to resist Trump’s agenda: A funding bill recently passed by the House — and that received bipartisan support in the Senate in December — includes language on ending the GGR, restoring funding to UNFPA, and increasing funding for international family planning.

Milestones this month also remind us of this potential for change: We celebrated the 46th anniversary of Roe v. Wade on Jan. 22. And on Jan. 24, we’ll celebrate the anniversary of the introduction of the Global Health, Empowerment and Rights (HER) Act — which would end the GGR and received an unprecedented number of sponsors in the last Congress.

Building on this progress, Congress and U.S. civil society have an opportunity to revolutionize how sexual and reproductive health and rights are articulated and protected by U.S. policy. Language has consequences, and recent ​attempts​ by the Trump administration — such as​ their move to​ ​censor​ U.S. diplomats’ use of sexual and reproductive health terms — would dramatically alter the lives of women and girls across the world.

But to revolutionize our approach, we must first hold our policymakers accountable to their U.S. global commitment to protect the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls. We need to assess how they’ve stuck to their commitments and know that they’re being true to their word.  

To do this, Congress and advocates need a shared understanding of comprehensive, evidence-based sexual and reproductive health policy and funding that is grounded in human rights. They need tools, like the Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Index: Grading U.S. Global Health Assistance, to demonstrate what works and what does not.

By monitoring the U.S. government’s work and demanding improvement, we can create a roadmap for the future. The Trump administration has threatened sexual and reproductive health and rights from the moment the president put pen to paper two years ago, but we can resist his regressive decisions.

As this new class of U.S. policymakers takes their place at the helm of our nation’s political and legislative decision-making, I urge them to think critically and act compassionately toward those affected by Trump’s dangerous policies. Codifying U.S. support for sexual and reproductive health and rights and ending the GGR is a good place to start.

Beirne Roose-Snyder is the director of public policy at the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE).