Trump's 'culture that cherishes innocent life' hurts many abroad

When Trump extended the specious olive branch during his State of the Union address – “let us work together to build a culture that cherishes innocent life” — it was nothing but a hollow statement.

Every year, 31,000 women die from unsafe abortions, 97 percent of which occur in developing countries. These women lack information and access to safe abortion services. By forcing health care providers in some of the world’s most disadvantaged communities to decide between critically-needed U.S. funding and providing their patients with comprehensive health care and information, Trump’s “global gag rule” no doubt exacerbates this crisis. 

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But there is a solution. Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenSunday shows - Recession fears dominate Lewandowski on potential NH Senate run: If I run, 'I'm going to win' Lewandowski says he's 'happy' to testify before House panel MORE (D-N.H.), Rep. Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyWhite House won't move forward with billions in foreign aid cuts Pelosi warns Mnuchin to stop 'illegal' .3B cut to foreign aid Appropriators warn White House against clawing back foreign aid MORE (D-N.Y.) and nearly 200 other members of Congress introduced the Global Health, Empowerment and Rights (HER) Act to permanently repeal Trump’s pernicious global gag rule. This legislation would effectively reduce maternal mortality rates by ensuring clinics receive funding for family planning and reproductive health care — clinics like those run by Family Health Options Kenya and the Family Planning Association of Nepal.

Since Trump signed and expanded this policy on January 23, 2017, the Family Health Options Kenya has lost $2.2 million in U.S. aid. As a result, it’s been forced to close three clinics (in Mombasa, Kitengela and Isiolo), terminate mobile outreach services that reached 76,000 people annually, lay off 15 staff members and drastically reduce the number of staffers in its Kibera clinic, which will likely be the next facility to close if no alternative financial support is found.

The Family Planning Association of Nepal is also facing major cuts due to this policy, being forced to cut down staff at its clinics, mobile outreach work, capacity-building training and a program to improve quality of care focused on family planning services and clients’ rights. Further, FPAN discontinued a project designed to ensure all Nepalese have access to at least five methods of contraception: pills, condoms, injectables, implants or an IUD.

The damage his policy would cause was entirely predictable because we’ve seen it happen before. Since President Reagan first introduced the global gag rule in 1984, every Republican president has unilaterally reinstated this rule — and people have suffered. When the rule was in effect under George W. Bush, clinics closed, contraceptive supplies ran dry and people lost access to the health care they needed. Soon after it ended, researchers from Stanford University found that the policy caused abortion rates in several African nations to double. A new study conducted by Rutgers University Professor Yana Rodgers and found that it caused abortion rates in Latin America to triple.

All of the evidence was available to Trump before instituting this policy: The global gag rule would lead to loss of life around the world, yet, he still chose to prioritize partisan ideology. The policy would lead to more unsafe abortions, yet, he still chose to withhold aid from organizations merely trying to treat their patients. It would force clinics to close, contraceptive supplies to dwindle and costs to patients to rise, yet, he still chose to impose — and expand — the global gag rule. Despite all this, he did it anyway, making clear that right-wing ideology is far more important than protecting lives.

This policy doesn’t “protect life.” It destroys lives. It undermines public health and economic opportunity. It is both cruel and stupid.

And Americans agree: 59 percent of likely American voters said they oppose policies, like the global gag rule, that ban U.S. health assistance to organizations in other countries that provide abortions or referrals, according to a 2018 Center for Health and Gender Equity poll.

What’s more, 58 percent of Democrats and 60 percent of Republicans oppose such bans. The majority of Republicans in this country oppose policies like Trump’s global gag rule. Yet, anti-abortion fanatics and conservative leaders continue to promote anti-choice policy and have been for some time.

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By introducing this legislation, these representatives and senators are not only demonstrating their commitment to listen to and represent their constituents, but also that they care about the health and dignity of everyone, everywhere. This iteration of the global gag rule has lasted two years too many — and Congress should act quickly to pass the Global HER Act and restore crucial support to health providers and the people they serve around the world

Let us work together to build a culture that genuinely values the lives of people around the world. Not just those flying the elephant flag. 

Brian Dixon is senior vice president of Population Connection Action Fund, and advises the #Fight4HER campaign, a grassroots effort to defend reproductive rights around the world.