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Trump Administration Moves to Entrench Global Gag Rule

Regulation Would Expand Funding Cuts for Reproductive Rights

A woman walks past a mural on a Family Health Options clinic in the Kibera slums in Nairobi, Kenya, May 16, 2017. © 2017 Reuters

With attention turning toward what the administration of President-elect Joe Biden should do to protect sexual and reproductive rights, the administration of President Donald Trump is trying to further entrench rules that restrict work on these issues overseas.

These late efforts would expand the global gag rule, a policy that restricts foreign nongovernmental organizations that receive US funds from using non-US provided funds to provide services, referrals, or participate in advocacy on abortion outside the United States.

The global gag rule has long been a policy established through executive order by Republican presidents, and revoked under Democratic administrations. In Trump’s first week in office, he issued the policy and ordered its largest expansion ever, extending its reach to all US global health funding. Under previous Republican administrations, it was only applied to a sliver of this US funding.

But these restrictions didn’t apply initially to government contracts, which account for approximately forty percent of US global health spending. Now, the Trump administration is attempting to rush through last-minute regulatory changes that would extend the restrictions to contracts as well. Unlike policy set by executive order, these regulatory changes would be much more difficult for Biden to revoke.  

Human Rights Watch has submitted a formal comment in opposition to the new proposed regulation and detailed the ways in which the global gag rule – and the proposed expansion of its implementation – undermine human rights, including the rights to health, life, information, and freedom of expression.

This initiative is just one part of a broad set of Trump administration policies that have undermined and threatened sexual and reproductive rights. Under Trump, the US Department of State has stripped mention of sexual and reproductive rights, including maternal mortality, from its annual reports on human rights around the world. Last year, the US threatened to veto a United Nations Security Council resolution on sexual violence because it mentioned reproductive health services. It cut funding to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), and is actively and desperately trying to gain support from other countries on a declaration against abortion.

Enough is enough. Regardless of whether the Trump administration succeeds in this last attack on sexual and reproductive rights,  Biden should immediately issue an executive order when he takes office to revoke the global gag rule. He should also work with Congress to pass legislation to permanently repeal the global gag rule in all its forms. The Biden administration and Members of Congress should make clear through words and actions that sexual and reproductive rights are human rights and a key priority for the US.

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