Reproductive Justice Activists in Africa are Speaking Out Against Trump’s Global Gag Rule

The Trump Administration’s efforts to restrict women’s reproductive rights have been unyielding—and the consequences are being felt around the world.

In the U.S., 32 Planned Parenthoods around the country have closed in 2017 alone, and at least 20 states have pushed forward restrictive and draconian abortion legislation. Department of Health officials have referred to the country as a “pro-life nation” and attempted to water-down contraceptive coverage and other health benefits for women in the Affordable Care Act, slash teen pregnancy funding and bolster abstinence-only sex education programs. Our President has said women who get abortions should be “punished;” his vice-president wants Roe on the “ash heap of history.”

But women abroad are feeling the Trump administration’s war on women, and specifically women’s bodily autonomy, more acutely. The Trump administration’s re-instatement and expansion of the Global Gag Rule has cut off aid funding to any health care providers who so much as mention abortion to patients—they must either opt-in to silence or, in many cases, instead shutter their doors. Either way, the rule ensures that women are losing access to critical care in regions where managing their sexual and reproductive health is both most vital and most difficult.

It’s been estimated that under previous administrations, restrictions on funding for global health overseas totaled around $575 million. Under Trump, those restrictions have been extended to $8.8 billion. Women around the world are paying the price for Trump’s anti-abortion agenda—with their health and their lives.

Due to a lack of accessible or available care, there has been an increase in unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortions and maternal deaths across the globe since Trump’s decision to go back to the Global Gag. Women who seek out abortion services are increasingly finding that none are available, so they either resort to unsafe clinics or attempt the procedure themselves. Women who do seek to carry to term are also losing critical maternal health and child care, as the Trump administration’s version of the Global Gag Rule extends not just to family planning clinics, but to all healthcare providers.

Across the continent of Africa, advocates for reproductive rights are speaking out against this glaring attack on women’s health—and facing massive losses in funding that threaten their attempts to provide safe, secure health care to women.

In South Africa, one woman dies of an unsafe abortion every eight minutes. Abortion is legal there, but only about 500 of the 4,000 health facilities in the country are authorized to terminate pregnancies. Dr. Tlaleng Mofokeng, a leading activist in the country and one of the founding members of the Sexual and Reproductive Justice Coalition, attributes the failing health system both to the incompetencies of the National Ministry of Health in her home country and the current U.S. administration.

“In the context of South Africa and the global politics, we cannot ignore the fact that South Africa’s health system and the programming that’s designed and geared for women’s health is funded by U.S. aid and foreign funds, which often dictate the terms, and how our health system is able to cater to women’s needs,” Mofokeng said in an interview. “The Global Gag Rule is now being expanded under the current U.S. presidential administration and I think it’s in the uncertainty that our health department continues to self-gag.”

Monica Oguttu, Kisumu Medical and Education Trust Executive Director, founded the Kenyan NGO after working as a nurse in Nairobi, where she witnessed firsthand the horrifying aftermath that unsafe abortions had on the women there. “One in five of [women] went home in a coffin,” Oguttu told Reuters. “There was a 17-year-old girl who had lost her uterus and had damage to her rectum. She went home with a colostomy bag.”

Oguttu’s organization, founded in 1995 with the goal of providing more Kenyan women with healthcare, was expected to receive a total of $2 million in U.S. aid from 2017 to 2021, more than half of its entire budget. Under Trump’s Gag Rule, they predict they will lose all of it. In Niger, numerous healthcare organizations, programs and providers in the region, including Marie Slopes International, are expected to lose all of their funding. The World Bank already estimates Niger’s birth rate per woman to be at six or seven, one of the highest in the world—much like their maternal mortality rate. Less than 17 percent of women in Niger give birth in hospitals. Lack of access to education, both general and sexual, as well as a lack of access to healthcare, birth control and abortion services fuel the nation’s higher rates of poverty, disease and death.

Having operated under President Bush’s Gag Rule in 2001, Oguttu fears history is bound to repeat itself. “Suddenly there were no contraceptive methods. We had so many more complications having to do with post-abortion care from unsafe abortions,” she remembers. “We saw it happen last time and we dread it coming again.”

Tiernan Hebron is a Los Angeles-based activist and writer and an Editorial Intern at Ms. Her work has appeared in LA Magazine, ATTN, Feministing, Galore, Tribe de Mama, LadyClever, Elite Daily and Adolescent. Tiernan is a sexual and reproductive rights peer educator for Amnesty International and manages digital communications for DIGDEEP and the Los Angeles Black Worker Center. You can find her being very opinionated on Instagram.

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