Women gather in D.C. to protest Trump’s Global Gag Rule

Hundreds gathered today in Washington, D.C., to protest President Donald Trump’s Global Gag Rule, which critics say will threaten the health of millions of the world’s most vulnerable women and families.

Clad in red, women rights advocates, medical professionals, faith leaders and others marched from Freedom Plaza to Lafayette Park in front of the White House to join the protest.

“Resist Trump, stop the gag,” they chanted, according to the Washington Post.

The protest, hosted by the D.C.-based woman’s rights organization Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE) along with 40 other cosponsors, was planned to coincide with International Women’s Day and to stand in solidarity with the “Day Without a Woman” strike.

Speakers at the protest had planned to share first-hand accounts of what Trump’s Global Gag Rule means for women and people around the world. According to the Washington Post, organizers urged attendees to “march in to Congress” and press legislators to overturn the order.

The Gag Rule freezes funding to any foreign health services NGO if it provides or offers information about abortion services. It has been controversial since it was first instated by President Ronald Reagan in 1984, but Trump’s version dramatically expanded the scope of the Gag Rule.

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“We’re all really devastated and horrified, and that is not an understatement,” Serra Sippel, president of CHANGE, told Humanosphere. “We have … so much more evidence today than we had 16 years ago when [the policy] was last instated by George W. Bush. That makes it especially egregious that, in 2017, we see such a policy expanded when it shouldn’t have even reappeared.”

Trump’s expansion of the policy stretches U.S. aid cuts to cover all global health assistance – a move women’s health advocates say would threaten the lives of millions of the world’s poorest women and families. The expanded policy would cut funding to health programs ranging from family planning, maternal and child health, nutrition, HIV/AIDS (including PEPFAR), infectious diseases, malaria, tuberculosis to neglected tropical diseases.

Advocates have pointed to mounting evidence that the rule actually leads to an increase in unsafe abortions and a decrease in access to contraception, leading to more unwanted pregnancies, higher rates of HIV and other health issues for women across the developing world.

Criticism of Trump’s foreign aid approach surged again last week, when his administration proposed a 37 percent cut to the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development to help pay for increased military spending.

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“It’s salt on the wound,” said Sippel. “Foreign aid is not the piece of the pie to go after. That, on top of this policy which is really going to affect all of our global health programs. … It’s devastating.”

In addition to repealing the Gag Rule, today’s protestors called for support of the Global HER Act (Global Health and Empowerment and Rights Act), introduced by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., in January.

“This legislation would permanently end the Mexico City policy, or what we call the Global Gag Rule,” said Sippel, “and we are optimistic … that we can get more members of Congress and the Senate to sign on.”

Under the policy, abortion-related expenses would be paid for on their own (per the Helms Amendment). The legislation currently has 141 cosponsors in the House, and in the Senate has 47 cosponsors.

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Lisa Nikolau

Lisa Nikolau is a Madrid-based reporter for Humanosphere, covering gender equality, indigenous rights and poverty in Latin America and worldwide. Find her on Twitter at @lisanikolau, email lisa.nikolau@humanosphere.org or see her latest work at www.lisanikolau.com