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Trump reverses abortion-related U.S. policy, bans funding to international health groups

President Trump reinstated a rule Jan. 23 that advocates call "the Mexico City Policy." Opponents call it "the Global Gag Rule." (Video: Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)

Yet again, a rule is back in effect to block U.S. aid to foreign organizations that use funds from other sources to perform or discuss abortions.

President Trump, in reinstating a rule first instituted by President Reagan, gave foreign nonprofits a stark choice: Stop providing abortions, or any information about abortions, or lose valuable dollars from the United States, the biggest global funder of family-planning services.

The move drew immediate denunciations from family-planning groups and their Democratic allies and praise from pro-life officials and Republicans.

Since its inception in 1984, the funding ban — officially known as the “Mexico City policy” and referred to as “the global gag rule” by its critics — has been repealed and reinstated every time a different political party has assumed power in the White House.

The rule stayed in place under President George H.W. Bush and then was rescinded by President Bill Clinton in January 1993. When President George W. Bush came into office in 2001, he imposed the rule that Jan. 22 — the 23rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court Case that legalized abortion in the United States. President Barack Obama lifted the rule eight years later.

Even when the rule has not been in effect, however, existing federal law has barred the use of U.S. funds to pay for abortions anywhere in the world.

The wording of the executive order raised the possibility that the rule will now apply to any of the government’s global health assistance. Previously, the rule was limited to State Department funding of family-planning programs.

President Trump signs an executive order banning funding to international health groups that use other money to discuss or pay for abortions in other countries (Video: Reuters)

Trump’s action, coming just two days after massive women’s marches around the world to protest his ascension to the presidency, sparked a flurry of angry responses from Democratic lawmakers and women’s health organizations.

“It’s a new year, new Congress, new Administration, but R’s are taking us back to a dangerous past,” tweeted Florida Rep. Lois Frankel. “We won’t go back to coat hanger medicine.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement that Trump’s order “returns us to disgraceful era that dishonored the American values of free speech and inflicted untold suffering on millions of women around the world.”

Marie Stopes International, which provides family-planning and abortion services in several countries around the world, said that it would not agree to the revived policy because it “violates our core belief in individual choice.”

Last year, the group said, it received $30 million in aid from the United States Agency for International Development — 17 percent of its donor grant income. The loss of such funds, the group predicted on its Website, will result in an increase in unintended pregnancies and abortions.

In 2011, researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine found that implementation of the Mexico City policy was linked to increases in abortion rates in sub-Saharan African countries. But they said that they couldn’t draw “definitive conclusions about the underlying cause of this increase.”

Pro-life officials and groups praised Trump’s action. “This is a vital step in the journey to make America great again, recognizing and affirming the universal ideal that all human beings have inherent worth and dignity, regardless of their age or nationality,”said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.

“Funding foreign groups that promote or participate in abortion violates the principle that there should be a ‘wall of separation’ between taxpayer money and abortion,” he said.

The anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List sounded a similar theme, saying that Trump’s order “sends a strong signal about his Administration’s pro-life priorities.”

Republican Rep. Diane Black (R., Tenn.) praised the move to restrict family planning funding as “compassionate,” saying that Trump has started to “make good on his promises to the millions of pro-life Americans that helped him ascend to this office.”

Reagan announced the policy at a United Nations conference in Mexico City. It “marked an expansion of existing legislative restrictions that already prohibited U.S. funding for abortion internationally,” according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, which issued a backgrounder on the issue Monday.

Before the Mexico City policy was promulgated, the foundation said, NGOs could use non-U.S. funds to engage in abortion-related activities as long as they kept separate accounts for any U.S. money received. That practice was not permitted under the new policy.