Trump: threat to abortion rights worldwide

Author: 

Elizabeth Butterworth

One of Trump’s first executive orders after being installed as President was to reintroduce the Mexico City Policy, or “Global Gag Rule”: a technicality in the funding of overseas aid, which was introduced by Reagan, revoked by Clinton, re-introduced by Bush and revoked again by Obama.

The “rule” means that international organisations risk having federal funding pulled if they “perform or actively promote abortion as a method of family planning”. The US does not fund abortions abroad, nor does it give general funds to organisations that provide terminations. The funds it gives are not used to fund abortion services. The Mexico City Policy blocks service users in the developing world from accurate information on abortion and prevents organisations from signposting people to abortion providers.

The policy has been a statement of intent from successive administrations’ stances on reproductive rights. But it has darker consequences than just its symbolism. Abortion rates have decreased in the global North but have remained at a similar level in the global South – which accounts for around 88% of abortions worldwide. Every year, 6.9 million women in the developing world are treated for medical complications resulting from unplanned pregnancy and 22,000 women a year die from these complications. If the Trump administration cuts contraceptive services through USAID, the consequence will be women dying from unsafe abortions.

The abortion rate in countries where terminations are available on request is lower than in countries where it is restricted. 29% of all abortions take places in countries where it is either banned wholesale or allowed only in the case of saving the carrier’s life. This is due to a wide-ranging list of factors including the accessibility of contraceptive services and rates of poverty, rape and incest. However, the evidence is clear that, as well as being reprehensible on the grounds of women’s rights, restricting abortion on moral grounds is also not practical.

Vice President Mike Pence has shown his consistently anti-woman views on reproductive rights. He has said he believes that a foetus has the “unalienable right to life”, overruling the rights of the pregnant person over their own body. He has voted for stopping under-18s from being able to travel to another state to access abortion services, effectively preventing young and potentially vulnerable people from the ability to end a pregnancy safely. He has voted to criminalise doctors who abort in order to protect the carrier’s health (only allowing abortions which put the carrier’s life at risk). He has called for an embryo or foetus to be considered a “person”, with personhood beginning at fertilisation.

Trump-Pence are going after abortion rights in the US as well as globally. Access to abortions is heavily restricted in the US compared to many countries in the global North. 90% of US counties do not have an abortion clinic, meaning that many people have to travel long distances to end a pregnancy. Under-18s must have parental involvement in order to access abortion in 38 states. 47 new restrictions to abortion came into effect in 22 states between 2012 and 2014.

Despite this legislation often putting up costly and inconvenient barriers to pregnant people, the notable impact on abortion rates is not restrictions on abortion but access to contraception. Many US women go through multiple hardships in order to end their pregnancies, which will only get worse and more common if Trump-Pence are able to introduce further restrictions. In the years to come under this administration, as Trump appoints conservative judges, it is possible that Roe v Wade could be overturned. This legal precedent, which passed in 1973, decriminalised abortion services on a national scale.

Mike Pence has, in the past, repeatedly voted to pull all federal funding from Planned Parenthood, the leading national organisation in reproductive healthcare. If he succeeds, millions of Americans will be significantly limited in their access not only to abortion (which is already not federally funded, but through other sources of income), but also to reliable family planning and contraceptive services, which would increase the unintended pregnancy rate and thus increase the demand for terminations. Worse, Congress is likely to either partially or fully pull funding to Title X, the US government’s flagship family planning programme. This was introduced by Nixon and George H.W. Bush in 1970.

The Christian Right have turned their fire onto Title X due to the providers it works through using separate funds to allow service users access to abortions. Title X serves four million clients through 4000 clinics every year, accounting for around one fifth of public family planning services. Two thirds of Title X’s client base live under the federal poverty level, as the programmes it funds are placed in the US’s poorest counties. Without access to Title X’s services, rates of unintended pregnancy would be 33% higher.

If people cannot access safe abortions, we may see an explosion in abortion pills being bought off the “dark web”, through unregulated online pharmacies, with likely complications arising and needing medical intervention. We will also see more unintended births, resulting in more women being stuck in poverty and abuse situations.

We are facing a state of emergency in the state of reproductive rights both in the USA and globally. We need a large and militant women’s movement that will once again fight back social conservatives and advance essential reproductive rights.

• All statistics and estimates are from the Guttmacher Institute

Feminist Fightback is working with others to highlight these threats and is planning action in the UK.