The Trump administration’s policy blocking US aid to foreign entities that provide abortion services is at odds with the laws of many developing countries, including South Africa. But with so much money on the line, how can governments uphold women’s rights?
My country liberalized abortion more than two decades ago, but on January 23, 2017, US President Donald Trump essentially took away my right even to write the word.
As a doctor in South Africa, I have provided abortion services for more than a decade. As part of my work, I often edit educational materials for an NGO working on HIV prevention. For young South African women, these texts offer life-saving information about issues related to sexual and reproductive health – including birth control, sexual violence, and our country’s progressive abortion law.
But two days after the American presidential election in November 2016 – and more than two months before Trump’s inauguration – the NGO I was working for halted distribution of a reproductive-health guide because it contained information on South Africa’s constitutionally guaranteed right to an abortion. The guide has since been reprinted, with all references to abortion deleted.
The cause of this self-censorship is an American policy known as the “global gag rule.” First introduced in the 1980s and revived by every Republican administration since, the policy blocks American foreign aid to organizations that offer abortion services, counseling, referrals, or advocacy. When the Trump administration formally reinstated the rule, it expanded the list of international aid programs that made funding conditional on meeting anti-abortion criteria.