The Global Gag Rule is Failed Policy That Increases Abortion and Condemns Women to Die Needlessly
We have been here many times before with the Mexico City Policy, also known as the Global Gag Rule. Ronald Reagan originally enacted the policy in 1984 with the aim of defunding international aid agencies that mention abortion as an option for women anywhere in the world in need of family planning or health services. Reagan and every other Republican president, including Trump, enact it to appease anti-abortion groups.
The Global Gag Rule has predictably ping-ponged between parties holding power, with Democratic presidents cancelling it (Clinton and Obama) and Republican presidents re-enacting it (both Bushes and Trump).
I. Claim: The Global Gag Rule reduces access to abortion, and therefore, reduces abortion.
Evidence: Twenty years of global data show that the Global Gag Rule actually increases the abortion rate in countries where it’s in effect.
For example, Bush Jr. re-enacted the Global Gag Rule when he took office in 2001. The data for abortion rates in Sub-Saharan Africa show a steady increase in abortion rates every year the policy remains in effect from 2001 through 2008 (Bendavid, Avila and Miller, 2012). The increase tops out at 250% in 2008. Then Obama takes office and cancels the policy.
A closer look at the data in Sub-Saharan Africa show that areas with high enforcement of the global gag rule (and therefore low access to family planning services) experience up to 100% higher rates of abortion than areas where the policy is enforced less strictly.
Reasoning: The Global Gag Rule increases abortion when in effect because women are desperate to control their fertility and will risk their lives to do so (WHO, 2005). Women experience approximately 46 million unwanted pregnancies per year globally under difficult conditions that include sexual assault, confinement to refugee camps, lack of resources, severe illness, and dire poverty.
Conclusion: the Global Gag Rule increases the global abortion rate.
II. Claim: The Global Gag Rule promotes forms of family planning that protect the unborn child.
Evidence: Twenty years of global data show that the Global Gag Rule increases maternal death from unsafe abortion, which harms the child.
For example, looking again at data from Sub-Saharan Africa, McGinn and Casey (2016) find that by 2008 (7 years after Bush re-enacted the Global Gag Rule):
Nearly half of abortions worldwide, and 97 % of those in sub-Saharan Africa, are unsafe . Up to 50 % of women who have unsafe abortions seek care for complications, including hemorrhage, sepsis, perforated uterus and trauma to internal organs . The risk of death due to unsafe abortion is 90 unsafe abortion-related maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in sub-Saharan Africa, three times the global average of 30 per 100,000 live births .
Reasoning: Unsafe abortion needlessly kills women who want to control their fertility. Here is the math for Sub-Saharan Africa for 2008 (the last year of the Bush Jr. years):
- Live births number approximately 178,000,000 (birth rate of 31 per 1,000 people; 5.5 billion people)
- There are 90 maternal deaths due to unsafe abortion for every 100,000 live births (McGinn and Casey 2016)
- Factoring these two rates, there are 0.18 live births per million people
- This translates into 33 million live births per year
- Multiply by the death rate due to unsafe abortion, and there were 30,000 women who died in 2008 alone because of unsafe abortion forced by the Global Gag Rule
Conclusion: By re-enacting the Global Gag Rule, Trump condemns 20,000 women in Africa to die by the end of his first term. There will be thousands more in other countries.
Bottom line: Full spectrum family planning services and anti-poverty measures reduce global abortion rates and save women’s lives.
- If you want to decrease abortion and support women’s rights as human rights, support a permanent ban on the Global Gag Rule and support anti-poverty measures that make it easier for women to nurture children.
- Conversely, if you want to increase abortion, support the Global Gag Rule. The logic may seem perverse, but the data are clear. Thank for reading this far.
- Bendavid, Avila and Miller (2012) located at: http://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/89/12/11-091660/en/
- McGinn and Casey (2016) located at: https://conflictandhealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13031-016-0075-8
- WHO Unwanted Pregnancy (2005) located at: http://www.who.int/whr/2005/chapter3/en/index3.html
- WHO Unsafe Abortion (2008) located at: http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/44529/1/9789241501118_eng.pdf