Trump’s Global Gag Rule Condemns To Death 20,000 Women in Africa

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 Ronald Reagan originally enacted the policy in 1984 with the aim of defunding international aid agencies that mention abortion as an option for women anywhere in the world in need of family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.

Fig. 1. Induced abortion rate in 20 sub-Saharan African countries, 1994–2008a. Source: Bendavid, Avila and Miller (2012). Located at:

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.

Fig. 2. Induced abortion rates in 20 sub-Saharan African countries, by exposure to the Mexico City Policy,a 1994–2008b,c. Source: Bendavid, Avila and Miller (2012). URL:

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 [15]. Up to 50 % of women who have unsafe abortions seek care for complications, including hemorrhage, sepsis, perforated uterus and trauma to internal organs [14]. 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 [16].

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: Support full spectrum family planning services and anti-poverty measures in order to reduce global abortion rates and save women’s lives.

  • If you want to decrease abortion, support a permanent pan on the Global Gag Rule and support anti-poverty measures that make it easier for women to nurture children.
  • If you want to support women’s rights as human rights, support a permanent pan on the Global Gag Rule and support anti-poverty measures that make it easier for women to nurture children.


  1. Bendavid, Avila and Miller (2012) located at:
  2. McGinn and Casey (2016) located at:
  3. WHO Unwanted Pregnancy (2005) located at:
  4. WHO Unsafe Abortion (2008) located at:

Kyoto Prize gala honors astrophysicist Michel Mayor for discovery of the first extrasolar planet

Michel-Mayor-kyoto-prize-gala-extrasolar-planetThe 2015 Kyoto Prize in basic sciences went to Michel Mayor, a Swiss astrophysicist credited with the first discovery of an extrasolar planet, 51 Pegasi b. I had the chance to talk with Dr. Mayor about his work at the Kyoto Prize gala held at UC San Diego in April 2016. One of the hardest tasks that I perform while talking to and interviewing scientists is parsing accents, which are often complex linguistic mixtures that result from globalized collaborations.

Dr. Mayor’s accent is very thick Swiss-French, and for a few minutes I was utterly baffled by his discussion of the “hockey” planet until he said “hadius”. Then I realized that he meant “radius”. This led me to realize that he was describing 51 Pegasi b as a “rocky” planet. Lucky for me, Dr. Adam Burgasser, an astrophysicist credited with discovering a class of stars called “T Dwarfs” was able to explain the discovery process in his easy-to-understand Buffalo, NY, accent. I made the mental corrections to Dr. Mayor’s comments before I embarrassed any of us.

NASW/CASW wins bid to host World Federation of Science Journalists in 2017

The sucsan francisco bid 2017cess of the first-ever cross-border science journalism conference (see previous post) proved a fertile seed for a larger collaboration between U.S. and Latin American journalists. The World Federation of Science Journalists announced that NASW/CASW won the bid to host the 10th annual conference in San Francisco in 2017. Congratulations to my collaborator Lynne Walker, Vice President of the Institute of the Americas at UC San Diego!



Launching Seasons of La Jolla Magazine

Seven-Caves-in-the-CliffsI recently joined the team at Seasons of La Jolla magazine as a freelance contributor. James Tully and Matthew Lyons publish the quarterly glossy. My first piece appears in the Winter 2014 edition entitled “Seven Caves in the Cliffs” and uncovers the history of La Jolla’s famous sea caves. What I enjoyed most about writing the piece was talking with historian and author Carol Olten of the La Jolla Historical Society–and of course–doing my research on site at the beach.

Robots write music and perform concerts

hatsune mike documentaryI spoke with  visual artist Tara Knight about what robots are doing in Japan, across cultural and digital divides, specifically  Hatsune Miku. She is Japan’s most popular teen vocaloid character. Knight recently toured the U.S., including appearances on late night television, talking about her interactive documentary of Hatsune Miku called “Mikumentary“.  Knight breaks with the traditional notion of artist and audience as separate from art.

Knight’s work with Hatsune Miku challenges the notion that adolescence is a life stage we outgrow. Miku reveals that digital technology, when applied to art and culture, allows  even the most socially fixed among us can regain access to many possible identities through creative expression. Her work also challenges what it means to be an artist.

For more details about how a robot can write and perform songs, read this account published by The Atlantic magazine.