President Trump reinstated the so-called global gag rule on Monday — an anti-abortion foreign aid restriction so extreme that it will likely cause thousands of maternal deaths worldwide and deprive millions of women access to safe abortion as well as birth control.
And when White House press secretary Sean Spicer explained Trump’s decision Monday during his first daily press briefing, he made a false statement about what the gag rule actually does.
Spicer said the global gag rule will "end the use of taxpayer dollars to fund abortions overseas, along with coercive abortion and sterilization practices." He added that policy prevents “taxpayer funds” from “being spent overseas to perform an action that is contrary to the values of this president."
That’s not true.
For one thing, there’s already a policy in place that does what Spicer describes. It’s called the Helms Amendment, and since 1973 it has banned foreign aid from being used “to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions.”
It’s important to note that the Helms Amendment already has harmful effects on women’s health. It also makes no exceptions for rape victims in conflict zones, which means the US couldn’t have stepped in to help the Boko Haram girls who became pregnant from rape to obtain an abortion.
But the global gag rule goes even further than the Helms Amendment. The rule strips federal funding from international organizations that either provide abortion or discuss abortion services with their clients — even if those services are paid for by separate, privately raised funds.
Bringing back the global gag rule does more than just refuse to pay for abortions. Federal tax dollars already don’t pay for abortion overseas, with zero exceptions. They don’t pay for abortions in the US either, except in rare circumstances (rape, incest, or life endangerment — and no exceptions for other maternal health issues or for fetal abnormalities).
Instead, the gag rule tries to control how international organizations use their own funds, raised from other sources. It defunds entire organizations if those organizations — many of which also provide contraception and other health care to vulnerable women worldwide — do so much as tell women that abortion is a family planning option.
Just like Republican efforts to defund Planned Parenthood in the United States, it’s an attempt to stop abortion from happening by forcing organizations that provide it to make a choice: Stop providing or promoting abortion, or lose the large amounts of funding that you get from the US government to support your other medical services.
Trump has “made it very clear that he’s a pro-life president,” Spicer said in the briefing. And reinstating the global gag rule is a clear signal that Trump, who said in 1999 that he was “very pro-choice,” is actually willing to pass sweeping anti-abortion measures as president.