Women all over the world received a profoundly alarming reminder last week that their bodies are not their own. The reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy by Donald Trump, and his smug male colleagues, has demonstrated that the newly inaugurated President intends to unleash the full force of his abhorrent misogyny upon women worldwide.
It is women in developing countries who will bear the brunt of this egregious measure. Condemned by its innumerable critics as the ‘global gag rule’, it withdraws US funding from any non-governmental organisations which provide abortion services or information, and will consequently endanger the lives of women by curtailing their access to safe and reliable facilities.
There were those of us who entertained some vague hope that Trump’s horrifying campaign promises would be moderated by the reality of holding office—it seemed unthinkable that he would implement some of the policies he had spouted with reckless abandon.
Yet from reaffirming his commitment to the construction of a border wall with Mexico to his banning of travellers from seven Muslim countries, the President has thus far exhibited no sign of restraint.
The global gag rule is a case in point. It has been reinstated and rescinded by Republican and Democratic administrations since Reagan introduced it in 1984, but Trump’s version goes even further in its war on women’s rights, for it imperils funding in other areas such as HIV/AIDS programmes and the provision of contraception.
Indeed, Marie Stopes International has estimated that its loss of funding from US AID during Trump’s presidency will result in 6.5 million unplanned pregnancies, 2.1 million unsafe abortions and nearly 22,000 maternal deaths.
The tragic irony is that, according to a 2011 study, abortion rates actually increased in sub-Saharan Africa when the Bush administration reinstated the global gag rule. Restricting women’s access to abortion services will not prevent unwanted pregnancies—it will only force more women into having unsafe abortions. This is a policy which is both destructive and ineffective.
Controversy over abortion is nothing new, but Trump’s latest measure has dealt a sickening blow to women’s reproductive rights. He has scant concern for the terrified teenager with an unwanted pregnancy, the rape victim driven to a botched back-street abortion, or the HIV-positive woman who does not wish to bring a terribly sick child into the world.
His Twitter feed, not renowned for its eloquent and sensitive content, did not mention the global gag rule on the day that the executive order was signed, yet he expressed his approval for the annual March for Life several days later. “The #MarchForLife is so important. To all of you marching—you have my full support!” he tweeted jovially.
Coming, as this did, just days after he viciously attacked the bodily autonomy of women worldwide, its rousing exclamation mark underscores his utter lack of compassion for the millions of lives he has put at risk.
It is essential that a process of normalisation does not take place, with Trump shifting the Overton window towards the extreme right-hand side of the spectrum. The women’s marches which took place across the world on the first day of Trump’s presidency were a reassuring reminder of people’s resolve to take a stand against his ideology, but this spirit of resistance must continue.
There are practical measures that can be taken to mitigate the consequences of the global gag rule with the Netherlands, for instance, already seizing the initiative by establishing a global abortion aid fund to which other countries and organisations seem keen to contribute.
Yet the UK must also look closer to home when working out how to tackle abortion issues. The global gagging rule has rightly been greeted with outrage in our country, but injustices regarding abortion here receive less attention.
It remains a criminal offence in Northern Ireland, where women seeking an abortion often have to procure pills online, which comes with the risk of prosecution and jail—a traumatic experience for various reasons.
The cases of women facing criminal prosecution, or being referred to the police, because they have procured drugs for an abortion are innumerable.
Another option, for women, is to travel to Britain at their own expense and pay for an abortion there, which means that the poorest suffer the most as this option is too costly to be available to them.
But this issue has not attracted the support it deserves. It is deeply unfair that, for both religious and social reasons, Northern Irish women are denied the reproductive rights that are accorded to their counterparts across the Irish Sea.
This is a discrepancy which needs to be addressed, yet the government shows little appetite for intervention despite it being their responsibility to ensure that women’s reproductive rights are upheld in law.
If Trump continues to fulfil his campaign promises, we can expect far tighter restrictions on abortion within the US—indeed, he has already voiced his intention to appoint pro-life justices to the Supreme Court and may defund Planned Parenthood.
It is said that we have entered an era of posttruth politics, yet one fact is incontrovertible: Trump’s perverse desire to control women by reinstating the global gag rule will jeopardise the rights and lives of millions worldwide.