LUTZ: Global Gag denies desperately needed healthcare worldwide

A perspective on the executive order

On the morning of January 21, I stood in Public Square Park with thousands of Nashville’s citizens for the Women’s March, beaming and proud to be alongside so many compassionate and determined people. 48 hours later, I awoke to learn that President Trump had reinstated the Global Gag Rule. Ever since, I’ve been struggling to comprehend the impact that this executive order will have on the world in the years to come. The Global Gag Rule, originally introduced in 1984 during the Reagan administration, prohibits international non-governmental organizations receiving US funds from providing or advocating for abortion services in the communities in which they work. With these massive cuts to funding, access to reproductive healthcare across the globe will suffer immensely.

I am still unsure about what the executive order actually seeks to accomplish. Perhaps it is an attempt to appease pro-life supporters or to advance an “America first” mentality — or maybe Global Gag has just become a standardized precedent of a Republican presidency. Regardless, I believe that its reinstatement reflects a callous disregard for the affected organizations’ efforts to secure health equity for women worldwide.

Clearly, abortion is a complex and often ambiguous moral and political issue. However, in the US and in the countries where abortion is offered by US-funded NGOs, it is a legal medical procedure. In the wake of massive cuts to funding, these organizations are forced to make a difficult decision – cease offering abortion as a healthcare option for the women they serve or continue providing this service while struggling with dramatically reduced financial means. For women relying on these US-funded hospitals or clinics, Global Gag essentially eliminates their ability to make a basic decision about reproductive health. When this autonomy is suspended, the consequences are severe. A 2008 World Bank report shows that during the Bush administration, when the Global Gag policy was in place, the annual number of deaths from unsafe abortions shot up from 22,000 to 68,000. Currently, nearly 13% of maternal deaths are caused by abortions carried out in dangerous, unsanitary conditions; I fear that, without accessible contraceptive and abortion services, this number will skyrocket.

Furthermore, it is crucial to note that the funding stamped out by Global Gag supports numerous different health services for women in the developing world – there is so much more at stake here than just access to abortion services. International Planned Parenthood Foundation is projected to lose $100 million that would otherwise provide family-planning, contraception, HIV/AIDS prevention measures, prenatal care, and post-abortive care to women living in twenty developing countries across the globe. In these regions, pregnancy is exceedingly dangerous; of the 830 women that die each day from complications during pregnancy or childbirth, 99% live in poverty. I am burdened by the realization that Global Gag will have the most profound impact on those who are already vulnerable, trapped by poverty and suffering from disproportionately grim health outcomes.

I am pained by what this executive order says about our country. Just three weeks ago, the newly inaugurated President Trump stood on the steps of the Capitol and declared that “it’s going to be only America first… America will start winning again, winning like never before.” For so much of our nation’s history, Americans have recognized and celebrated our role as the global guardians of democracy and human rights, yet Trump bemoaned the portion of this nation’s robust GDP poured into international development. Though it is easy for Americans to selectively ignore the projected consequences of Global Gag, we must remember that in our increasingly globalized world, the success or failure of each nation impacts us all. When we choose not to fund high-quality, accessible medical care, we are inadvertently neglecting an opportunity to invest in millions of futures. When we say “America first,” we inherently devalue the lives of the other 7 billion people on this planet. And when we prioritize only America “winning,” we normalize the loss of autonomy, equality, and justice outside our borders.

I implore us all to avoid this desensitization and to think critically about our role as global citizens. I plan to channel my indignation into action and I encourage Vanderbilt students to do the same. Call or write to your representatives, write a Letter to the Editor, support the work of health equity organizations, and speak up about the issues that move you. As Vanderbilt students, we have been endowed with an incredible degree of privilege; with this power comes responsibility, not only to our campus and our country, but to our world as a whole.

  1. World Health Organization maternal mortality statistics
  2. Center for Health and Gender Equality
  3. WHO maternal mortality stats

Lydia Lutz is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Science. She can be reached at lydia.r.lutz@vanderbilt.edu

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