WASHINGTON — The Trump administration will expand its anti-abortion rules abroad, a move that many international health organizations say worsens an already devastating policy for women’s health.
The State Department announced Tuesday the administration will expand a rule that blocks US funding from any international nongovernmental organization that “provides or promotes abortion as a method of birth control.” The rule, called the Mexico City Policy, will now not only apply to organizations receiving US funding, but any local organizations those organizations support. Many groups that rely on US funding stopped doing international aid work related to abortion in order to keep those funds. The expanded rule will mean that they will have to stop giving financial support to other groups doing that work as well, even if they were using non-US or private funds to provide that support.
“This administration has shown we can continue to meet our critical global health goals, including providing health care for women, while refusing to subsidize the killing of unborn babies,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the press Tuesday.
“As a result of my decision today we refuse to provide assistance to foreign NGOs that give financial support to other foreign groups in the global abortion industry,” he continued. “We will enforce a strict prohibition on backdoor funding schemes.”
Practically, the new policy means that organizations that chose not to comply with the rule in order to keep doing abortion-related work will now have to cut any ties with any organizations that do receive US funds — which is a very large portion of international health NGOs and grant-giving organizations — making it even harder for them to survive.
The expanded policy will go into effect immediately. “Going forward, we expect our partners to comply with this new guidance,” a State Department spokesperson said in a statement. “We will continue to work closely with our partners to ensure they know what complying with the policy entails.”
A version of the Mexico City Policy was first introduced by president Ronald Reagan and has been repealed by every Democratic president since and reinstated by every Republican one. Trump’s version, which he reinstated in his first week in office, was already more expansive than that of any previous administration. In the past, the rule only applied to family planning funding, but Trump applied it to all foreign aid funding out of the US, no matter the topic — about $9 billion. (A separate rule preventing any US funds from going directly to pay for abortions internationally has been in place since the 1970s, but Trump’s rule doubles down.)
Several major global health organizations, including PAI, CHANGE, and Marie Stopes International, said that this rule has caused many clinics in underserved areas to shutter and cut off access to abortion and other health services for thousands of women, and it has affected organizations that do very little work with abortion, instead primarily providing care for HIV/AIDS, maternal health, and malaria, among other causes.
Representatives from those organizations also previously told BuzzFeed News that a lack of clarity around the rule has caused confusion for international organizations receiving US funding, even those that don’t do work pertaining to abortion.
Now, PAI — a family planning–focused partner of the United Nations Foundation — told BuzzFeed News it is concerned that the work of complying with this rule will only worsen under the expanded rule, greatly limiting the function and proficiency of often already under-resourced groups serving populous or underserved areas.
“It’s totally unnecessary and absurd to slow down this policy even more,” said Craig Lasher, PAI’s director of US government relations. “The administrative burden that gets imposed on organizations that choose to comply forces them to divert funding and staff toward ensuring compliance with this law. There are better uses for already scarce US foreign assistance resources, particularly for organizations that have almost nothing to do with abortion.”
“Essentially the US is stigmatizing noncompliant groups and ostracizing them and shutting them out from the ability to receive funding from other sources,” Lasher added.
Pompeo also announced the Trump administration will re-enforce an already existing law on Tuesday, which prevents organizations receiving US funds from lobbying for or against abortion, saying that that there had been “recent evidence” that “an organ” of the Organization of American States (OAS) violated that law. It was not immediately clear what evidence Pompeo was referring to. The secretary said he has ordered language emphasizing this law to be included in agreements with OAS.
These announcements came on the heels of the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), a massive annual gathering of international politicians, diplomats, NGOs, and advocates to discuss gender equality and empowerment and negotiate a document that dictates global goals pertaining to these issues. This CSW, which concluded March 22, kicked off with protests and uproar when an unprecedented number of women attempting to travel to the US to attend the commission were denied entry to the country, violating a 70-year-old treaty.
2019 marks the third year Trump administration delegates have participated in the commission, and each year they have unsuccessfully proposed revisions to the commission document that push socially conservative and anti-abortion views. This year the US delegates reportedly pushed this agenda even harder, but as in other years they did not get their way, two UN officials present in the negotiations told BuzzFeed News.