Harmful Trump administration policies, like the global gag rule—a U.S. policy that blocks U.S. federal funding for organizations that provide abortion counseling or referrals—have stood as obstacles preventing the delivery of reproductive care.
Now, in the throes of a pandemic, the coronavirus has only made access to and the availability of sexual and reproductive health care more difficult worldwide.
Due to harmful nature of the global gag rule, elected officials in both the U.S. House and Senate have sent letters to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to call attention to the lack of availability of sexual and reproductive health globally.
The letters urge the State Department, as well as the Trump administration, to provide proper emergency global health funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), as well as a humanitarian exemption to ensure UNFPA will be able to compete for emergency supplemental funds.
Both letters had wide-reaching, bicameral support. The House letter—led by Reps. Jackie Speier (CA-14), Barbara Lee (CA-13), Diana DeGette (CO-1), Nita Lowey (NY-17) and Eliot Engle (NY-16)—was signed by 109 additional Representatives.
The Senate letter—led by Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)—was signed by 19 additional senators.
The House letter notes that, “(s)ince January 2017, the administration’s expanded global gag rule has disrupted the delivery of health care services supported by U.S. global health assistance, and negatively impacted people who already face systemic barriers to care.”
The letter also notes that a “recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) highlighted that the global gag rule has resulted in the denial of more than 50 global health awards, spanning HIV/AIDS, family planning and reproductive health, maternal and child health, tuberculosis, and even nutrition programs.”
These results highlight the very real—and extremely dangerous—health risks that come along with the expansion of the global gag rule.
Research by the Guttmacher Institute shows the impact of COVID on sexual and reproductive health—including supply chain disruption for contraceptives and forced shutdowns of health clinics—and demonstrates the urgency of these demands in order to save lives.
Speier addresses this research in her release, noting:
“Even a 10 percent decrease in access to sexual and reproductive care in 132 low- and middle-income countries—covering 1.6 billion women of reproductive age—will result in an additional 15 million unintended pregnancies; three million unsafe abortions and 1,000 maternal deaths due to unsafe abortions.
“Additionally, 1.7 million more women will give birth and 2.6 million newborns will experience major complications but not receive the care they need, resulting in an additional 28,000 maternal deaths and 168,000 newborn deaths.”
The Senate letter reiterates these points, arguing that research on the global gag rule:
“shows the policy limits access to sexual and reproductive health services and supplies, particularly in hard to reach and vulnerable communities.
“In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the urgent need for global coordination, we are especially concerned the global gag rule has further weakened already fragile health systems and may be hindering our ability to effectively work with other donors and the full range of partners responding to this growing crisis.”
The COVID pandemic has highlighted the necessity and urgency associated with eliminating the global gag rule for appropriate UNFPA funding—but until the U.S. ends the global gag rule for good, it will continue to jeopardize the health, safety and well-being of millions of people who deserve proper sexual and reproductive health care even, and especially, during a global pandemic.