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How Trump Endangered Women During National Women's Health Week

This week is National Women’s Health Week, an annual observance led by the U.S. Health & Human Services Office on Women’s Health with the goal of empowering women to improve their health. On May 14, President Trump issued a proclamation in honor of National Women’s Health Week. The very next day, he drastically expanded the Global Gag Rule, which restricts women’s access to health care around the world and some experts say will result in at least tens of thousands more deaths annually. Ironically, he dubbed this policy, “Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance.”

The Global Gag Rule, also known as the Mexico City Policy, is an anti-abortion policy first enacted by President Ronald Reagan and reinstated by every Republican president since. Under this policy, health care organizations in developing nations lose their U.S. financial aid if they counsel, refer, or inform women about the option of abortion, even in countries where abortion is legal. Therefore, it “gags” health care workers from speaking to women about their full range of reproductive options and puts crucial family planning funds at risk if they do.

President Trump’s version of the Global Gag Rule goes even further. Previously, the Global Gag Rule was a restriction that applied only to the $600 million in family planning funds provided by the U.S. annually. Trump’s plan applies to almost all global health programs across the board – nearly $9 billion – including maternal/child health, nutrition, and programs aimed at fighting malaria, tuberculosis, the Zika virus, and HIV/AIDS. So, for example, a clinic receiving U.S. funding for Zika relief would lose that funding if they counseled a pregnant woman exposed to Zika about the option of terminating her pregnancy.

One important thing to note: the Global Gag Rule is not and has never been about preventing U.S. tax dollars from funding abortion. U.S. funding of abortion is already prohibited under several provisions of the law. What’s at stake here is the financial aid that international health organizations rely on to provide crucial health care services and save lives. Blocking access to those services only makes women less healthy and safe. In fact, studies show that when the Global Gag Rule was last in place under President George W. Bush, it resulted in decreased access to contraception, increases in unintended pregnancy, and more abortions, including unsafe abortions.

In President Trump’s National Women’s Health Week proclamation, he said, “Ensuring affordable, accessible, and quality health care is critical to improving women’s health and ensuring that it fits their priorities at any stage of life.” He called on improving health care access for “quality prenatal, maternal, and newborn care.” These lofty statements are hard to reconcile with his actions in signing the Global Gag Rule and promoting the American Health Care Act, which would leave many without health insurance, end Medicaid expansion, effectively dismantle insurance coverage for abortion care, bar Planned Parenthood from accepting Medicaid reimbursements, and revoke Medicaid coverage from new mothers who haven’t found a job within 60 days after giving birth. During National Women’s Health Week and beyond, we need more than pleasant-sounding words about the importance of health care – we need policies that put those words into action.

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