In the wake of November’s disastrous election results, family planning advocates began compiling a list of things we expected to see from the new Congress and the Trump administration. The list was, in a word, nightmarish: the return of the Global Gag Rule, a ban on funding to UNFPA, cuts to foreign aid and the family planning assistance budget, attacks on Planned Parenthood, terrible cabinet and court nominees, and serious steps to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
And mere weeks into this new world…well, I’d like to wake up now. Some very bad things have already happened.
Trump’s Global Gag Rule
On January 23, Trump, as expected, signed an executive order imposing the Global Gag Rule. What soon became apparent, however, was that the Trump Gag Rule is actually a radically expanded version of the already atrocious policy.
First imposed under Ronald Reagan in 1984, the Global Gag Rule (known to supporters as the Mexico City Policy), bars any U.S. funding for foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that use their own, non-U.S. funds to offer abortion services, counseling or referrals related to abortion, or political advocacy around the issue of abortion. It’s a cruel, counterproductive policy that has cut off funding to some of the most experienced, effective aid groups in the world. And Trump made it worse. In the past, the Gag Rule has been applied to U.S. family planning funding; Trump’s version, however, expands the restrictions to all global health funding.
Groups working to fight HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, the Zika virus, and other emerging threats are all at risk. Even global nutrition and child survival programs will be faced with the same dilemma family planning providers have always confronted under the Gag Rule. Will they refuse the restrictions and lose their funding? If they do agree to the restrictions, can they even function effectively? Global health experts are still evaluating the potential impact of the expansion, but it’s already clear that billions of dollars in U.S. aid will be affected. The results will be devastating.
In response, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) immediately introduced the Global Health, Empowerment, and Rights (HER) Act. The Global HER Act would repeal Trump’s Global Gag Rule and prevent a future president from unilaterally acting to impose it. At our print deadline, the Global HER Act had 43 co-sponsors in the Senate—including Republicans Lisa Murkowski (AK) and Susan Collins (ME)—and 121 in the House.
H.R. 7 and Abortion Access
Congress wasn’t idle while Trump was busy breaking our global health programs. Only a day later, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 7, the so-called “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act of 2017,” which would essentially end insurance coverage for abortion in the United States. The bill codifies the Hyde Amendment and permanently bans abortion coverage for women on Medicaid, military women, and federal employees. It bans abortion coverage from any plan offered under the ACA exchanges and penalizes employers who offer abortion coverage in workplace plans. It would also prohibit any federal facility from providing abortion services, even if a woman uses her own money to pay for it.
House leadership refused to allow members to offer any amendments to the bill. Numerous Democratic members spoke against it, including a clearly furious Gwen Moore (WI), who noted that right wing House members support medical “conscience clauses,” but don’t respect women’s consciences surrounding their personal choices about their bodies. Ultimately, the bill passed 238-183, with 11 not voting.
Price is Wrong for HHS
Of the nominees Donald Trump has selected to his cabinet so far, none is more alarming to women’s advocates than Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), who has been tapped to head the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Price has a long and depressing history in the House of Representatives. He has voted multiple times to defund Planned Parenthood. He has voted in favor of so-called “personhood amendments,” which grant rights to fertilized eggs. He has publicly insisted that before the ACA’s birth control benefit, literally not one woman had trouble affording birth control. And he’s an ardent opponent of the ACA more generally.
It’s crystal clear that he’s no friend to women and families. If he’s confirmed as HHS Secretary, he’ll have the power to do a lot of damage to programs that help millions in the United States. The Senate has the power to defeat the nomination, although if they decline to confirm him it seems unlikely to be because of our issues. During one of his confirmation hearings, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) insisted that describing Price’s views as outside the mainstream was “patently absurd.” We are following the nomination closely and will report on the outcome.
Neil Gorsuch Tapped for Supreme Court
In a ridiculous prime-time spectacle, Trump announced that he has nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. During his campaign, Trump explicitly promised to appoint justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade, and there’s every reason to believe that Gorsuch would vote to do exactly that. He has a troubling history on reproductive rights, including an opinion in the Hobby Lobby case that went even further than the eventual Supreme Court ruling. He has written that it’s reasonable to consider the use of birth control as “wrongful conduct.” We oppose this nomination and urge the Senate to reject this extreme pick.
In Other News
There’s simply not room in this column to adequately explore all the terrible things that are happening right now. A group of Republican senators have introduced a measure to make the Global Gag Rule permanent. The Senate has already cleared the way to use reconciliation (a 51-vote threshold) to repeal the ACA, and currently they have not offered a concrete plan for its replacement. And we expect the House to vote to defund Planned Parenthood sometime before this issue reaches your mailbox. We are working hard to keep up with all the new threats, and we are committed to standing firm against them all.
Contact Stacie at firstname.lastname@example.org.