24/01/2017 08:31 SAST | Updated 24/01/2017 15:35 SAST

Trump's Global Abortion Gag Rule Will Affect South Africans Too

It's not just something happening "over there".

Jim Rankin/Toronto Star via Getty Images
TORONTO, ON - JAN. 21: TORONTO, ON - JAN. 21: Marchers head down University Ave. Thousands of women and girls and their families took to the streets of Toronto Saturday in a show of solidarity for women's and human rights following the inauguration of US president Donald Trump. Marchers began with a rally at Queen's Park, then marched south past the U.S. embassy, and ended with more speeches at Nathan Phillips Square.

As President Donald Trump settled into his seat in the Oval Office, he signed an anti-abortion executive order that affects women everywhere, not just in the U.S. With about R1,3 :billion (90 percent of the aid South Africa received from the USA in 2016) allocated to healthcare, the implications for South African women could be dire.

The policy's history has been a political to-and-fro between the Republican and Democratic parties in the USA since it was instituted in 1984 when Republican President Ronald Reagan signed the Mexico City Policy -- otherwise known as the Global Gag Rule. Ever since, every Democratic president has revoked it, only to have it reinstated by his Republican successor.

The policy will prohibit any group or organisation receiving aid from the U.S. from providing abortions or counselling clients on the procedure. Without funding, these clinics and organisations -- that in many cases also provide women with contraception -- may be forced to close. With potentially more unplanned pregnancies as a result, women may be forced to resort to unsafe abortions. According to the Guttmacher Institute, the U.S. provides $607,5 million (more than R8 billion) on family planning assistance in foreign countries every year. As a result, the impact of the Gag Rule is not only far-reaching, it is potentially deadly to millions of women around the world.

What the Gag Rule will do is essentially force organisations to choose between providing safe healthcare to women and lose their funding; or to comply with the rule and withdraw healthcare services. The Guttmacher Institute's report on the Global Gag Rule further states that: "in reality, attempts to stop abortion through restrictive laws—or by withholding family planning aid—can never eliminate abortion, because those methods do not eliminate women's need for abortion". The Gag Rule leaves women trapped with very few safe options when it comes to their reproductive health.

U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, the only woman in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has said that she will "continue to stand up to President Trump and Republican leadership in Congress who are intent on rolling back women's access to reproductive healthcare". She will be "introducing bipartisan legislation aimed to repeal the Global Gag Rule for good".