Ivanka Trump Silent While Donald Trump’s Global Gag Rule Harms Women

Ivanka Trump’s announcement of her women’s empowerment initiative rings hollow while her father’s policies threaten women’s rights around the globe.

Ivanka Trump in the Oval Office with her father President Donald Trump — April 24, 2017, (AP/Susan Walsh)

Ivanka Trump in the Oval Office with her father President Donald Trump — April 24, 2017, (AP/Susan Walsh)

On his first full day in office, President Donald Trump reinstated the Mexico City Policy, a law which prohibits the allocation of U.S. funding to foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that offer abortions or information about abortions abroad. This policy—also known as the Global Gag Rule—has been historically enacted by Republican presidents only to be repealed by Democratic administrations.

Under President Trump, the law was renamed “Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance” and was expanded to preclude the Department of Defense from granting funding to abortion-providers, whereas the earlier iterations only applied to the State Department and the U.S. Administration for International Development (USAID). In April, the administration also decided to completely cut funding of the U.N.’s family planning sexual/reproductive healthcare agency, UNFPA—the same agency whose maternity ward in the Zaatari, Jordan refugee camp is so successful that there have been zero maternal deaths in over 5,000 deliveries since 2013. For comparison, the United States’ maternal mortality rate is 20.7 per 100,000 live births, the worst of any developed nation.

When her father announced the expansion of the policy, Ivanka Trump, the administration’s feminist figurehead, remained silent on the issue.

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How widespread are the effects of Trump’s Global Gag Rule?

We in the international development field have already begun to see the negative effects of President Trump’s reinstatement and expansion of the Mexico City Policy. Access to contraception, reproductive healthcare programming, and public health funding are all at risk while this policy remains intact. The implications for women in developing countries can be deadly. For many years, it was well-known that the Global Gag Rule had far-reaching consequences on global health, but it wasn’t until 2018 that a comprehensive study was done on those effects. In that study, the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE) maps every version of the Mexico City Policy from 1984 to the present, revealing the ways in which the policy has threatened global human rights. The report is devastating.

According to Dr. Leana Wen, President of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the expanded policy under Trump “doesn’t just drastically limit access to safe and legal abortion, it jeopardizes access to all health care offered by the same providers.” The CHANGE report confirms this. Trump’s expanded Global Gag Rule is so uniquely harmful because it affects all global health assistance, not only family planning assistance; it applies to 15 times the amount of funding compared to previous iterations. This translates into a jeopardization of health service delivery for the most marginalized communities worldwide.

Per the CHANGE report, certain NGOs that do not comply with the Global Gag Rule, such as Population Services Zimbabwe, previously received over half of their funding from U.S. foreign assistance. Without these funds, PSZ and other non-compliant organizations, are unable to provide condoms; HIV testing and treatment; and STI diagnosis and treatment to beneficiaries who otherwise do not have access to these services. Those services, provided to 650,000 Zimbabweans by PSZ, prevented 814 maternal and 3,100 child deaths. PSZ’s parent organization, MSI, predicts their loss of funding will result in 6.5 million unintended pregnancies; 2.2 million abortions; 2.1 million unsafe abortions; and 21,700 maternal deaths among their clients alone. So much for protecting life.

In Mozambique, AMODEFA lost funding to provide services to the LGBT and HIV+ communities, closing multiple clinics and laying off 30% of its staff, discontinuing service delivery for thousands. A program in Uganda which reached 14,000 adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) with information on HIV services and economic empowerment was forced to completely cease operations as a result of Trump’s version of the Mexico City Policy. Globally, this far-reaching and immoral policy most affects adolescent girls and young women; key and vulnerable populations; and communities living in rural areas. Much of the progress in global health made during the Obama administration has been halted by the implementation of this policy. It’s chilling to wonder how much worse the situation can get by allowing the policy to remain intact through the end of Trump’s presidency.

When the CHANGE report clearly delineated the harmful effects of this policy, Ivanka Trump remained silent on the issue.

What is being done about it?

On February 7, 2019, reproductive healthcare advocates in Congress introduced the Global Health Empowerment and Rights (HER) Act. Championed by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), the bill would reverse and prohibit the Global Gag Rule, ensuring that its cyclical reinstatement would finally end. If passed, the law returns NGOs who receive U.S. government assistance the right to provide safe and legal abortion care using their own funds, and in line with host countries’ laws. The Global HER Act is a progressive and integral step forward in the international fight to recognize reproductive healthcare as healthcare, and healthcare as a human right.

So, imagine my surprise when the First Daughter did not voice her support for the Global HER Act just one day after announcing her own women’s empowerment initiative. The Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative, a $50 million program aimed at helping 50 million women worldwide “realize their economic potential” by 2025. In her WSJ op-ed, Trump writes about “advancing greater equality and opportunity for women” without acknowledging that autonomy in decision-making around sexual and reproductive healthcare is paramount to achieving true gender equity. This forthcoming initiative should not be lauded as proof of her dedication to feminist causes when the Trump administration’s policies are so damaging to women’s health, both at home and abroad. Without components of this initiative focusing on sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights, it will not be successful in empowering women to have the freedom to participate in their countries’ economies. I fear that its implementation is solely a political bait-and-switch, aimed at distracting from the administration’s historic misogyny.

Ivanka Trump, in her deafening silence on the Global Gag Rule, remains complicit in the harm her father is causing to the most marginalized people worldwide. But she doesn’t have to be. I invite Ivanka Trump to support the Global HER Act and to incorporate sexual and reproductive healthcare programming into the Global Development and Prosperity Initiative. People’s lives depend on it.

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Global Outlook // Donald Trump / Ivanka Trump / Womens Rights / World