One of the central planks of this weekend’s Women’s March was “open access to safe, legal, affordable abortion and birth control for all people, regardless of income, location or education.” Millions of people around the globe showed up to support this principle and to protest Donald Trump’s threat to reproductive freedom. The mass gathering was the largest single-day demonstration in the history of the United States.
This week, President Trump and his fellow Republicans responded to the historic action with a giant “Fuck you!” By quickly acting to restrict abortion rights both at home and abroad, their message was clear: We couldn’t care less about your silly protest.
First up was Monday’s executive order reinstating – and expanding – the so-called global gag rule. This policy has been a political football ever since President Reagan first instituted it in 1984 by signing an executive order in Mexico City (thus its alternative name, the Mexico City Policy). Ever since then, Republican presidents have adopted the rule, while Democrats in the White House have rescinded it. Presidents from both parties have seen the global gag rule’s enactment or rescission as so important that every one of them has taken action on it in their first few days in office. So Trump’s quick action was no surprise.
With his executive action, Trump essentially signed a death warrant for thousands of women around the world. The policy prohibits United States funding from going to any international aid organization that providers or counsels patients about abortion. Despite some inaccurate headlines you might have seen this week, it does not stop U.S. dollars from funding overseas abortions – that’s long been prohibited under the 1973 Helms Amendment. The gag rule goes much further than that, prohibiting organizations that receive U.S. funding not only from providing abortions but also from talking with patients in any way about abortion, other than when the patient’s life is at risk or she is pregnant as a result of rape or incest. And Trump’s version of the gag rule goes even further than previous ones, impacting all global health funding, not just family planning funding.
The consequence of this rule is devastating. Health clinics of all types that receive U.S. aid money will be faced with a choice: either stop providing patients with necessary health care information, or stop receiving money from the United States. Neither choice is good, as both result in an increase in health risks for patients. Without U.S. funding, clinics may have to shut down, meaning people will not be able to get care that will prevent HIV, manage sexually transmitted diseases and access contraception. If they take the funding, the clinic will have to stop talking about abortion in any way, meaning patients will resort to their own devices to find safe abortion care – something that is difficult in many countries.
This is not mere speculation. Studies about the global gag rule undertaken when it was in effect during past Republican presidencies have shown an increase in unintended pregnancies, in the overall abortion rate and in unsafe abortions. Given that 47,000 women die every year around the world from unsafe abortion, the policy will increase the number of women who will die, completely unnecessarily. This is not an “alternative fact”; we know this with certainty. But President Trump signed the order anyway.
And that was just Monday. The following day, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed HR 7, a bill that would outlaw federal funding for abortion and restrict private health insurers as well.
As is the case with funding for abortions in other countries, federal funding for abortion right here in the U.S. has long been banned in most cases, under the Hyde Amendment. Hyde is an annual rider to the budget, meaning that it has to be separately passed by Congress every year, which it has been, in various forms, every year since 1976 (including with Democratic Congresses and presidents). HR 7 would get rid of this annual vote and make the Hyde Amendment just like any other law. Those working vigilantly against Hyde – and there are many courageous groups doing so – would have to convince Congress members to vote to remove a law from the books rather than merely convince them not to enact the yearly rider. That is a much bigger hurdle.
This might all sound a bit wonky, but it represents one of the most devastating attacks on poor women in the history of American health policy. The most widespread effect of the law is that women who receive their health care through Medicaid cannot use that insurance plan to pay for an abortion. Without insurance, women are faced with exactly the choice that Medicaid was designed to prevent: use money they would have otherwise have spent on on food, shelter or dependent care to get necessary health care, or go without that care. In the context of abortion, this means that one in four women enrolled in Medicaid who wants an abortion is forced to become a parent because she can’t afford to pay for an abortion.
Hyde also affects anyone who obtains health care through the federal government, like Native Americans, federal employees and military personnel. And women of color are disproportionately affected by Hyde. Basically, when Congress members voted for HR 7 on Tuesday, they told poor women, and women of color in particular, that they don’t care one lick about their medical needs.
Unbelievably, there’s even more to HR 7: It goes beyond federally funded insurance plans and also reaches into private insurance. It would deny tax credits available through the (still existing, but maybe not for long!) Affordable Care Act to anyone who chooses a health plan that covers abortion. It would also ban multi-state plans from covering abortion, and incentivizes private insurers from covering abortion in any health plan. Whereas Hyde limited abortion access for a subset of women, HR 7 could affect literally every woman with insurance in this country.
The Republicans hope to go even further. Also on Tuesday, Rep. Steve King introduced a bill that would ban abortions at six weeks, or once a fetal heartbeat is detected. This clearly unconstitutional bill would come very close to being a total ban on all abortion, as most women don’t know they’re pregnant until after six weeks.
So if you’re wondering whether the message of the Women’s Marches made it to the decision-makers in Washington yet, the answer is obvious: not at all. So far, Trump and his party are doing everything they can to tell the people who marched for women’s health and equality to fuck off.
Millions of people gathered in cities around the world for Women’s Marches. Watch here.