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The Trump administration’s global gag rule will not only stop abortion funding, but will bar organizations worldwide from offering comprehensive reproductive health services

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SHARMINI PERIES It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. Last month, the Trump administration announced a significant expansion of its policy to deny U.S. government funds to organizations that have anything to do with providing support for abortions. The policy, which is commonly known as the global gag rule, which has been in place since Trump took office two years ago, originally defunded groups that advised or provided abortions. The policy expansion now also denies funds to groups that fund other groups that advise or provide abortions. Here’s what Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had to say when he made the announcement last month.

MIKE POMPEO Today I’m announcing further refinements to advance our efforts to protect the least amongst us. As before, we’ll continue to refuse to provide assistance to foreign N.G.O.s who perform or actively promote abortion as a method of family planning. Now, as a result of my decision today, we are also making clear we will refuse to provide assistance to foreign N.G.O.s that give financial support to other foreign groups in the global abortion industry. We will enforce a strict prohibition on backdoor funding schemes and end-runs around our policy. American taxpayer dollars will not be used to underwrite abortions.

SHARMINI PERIES Joining me now to discuss the impact of the global gag rule policy and its expansion is Jonathan Rucks. He is a Senior Director of Policy and Advocacy at P.A.I., a reproductive rights organization based in Washington D.C. Jonathan, thanks for joining us.

JONATHAN RUCKS Thanks for having me.

SHARMINI PERIES Jonathan, let’s start off by just describing what the program is and what this expansion does in terms of abortion rights globally.

JONATHAN RUCKS The global gag rule is a policy that says that if you want to work with the U.S. government and accept U.S. global health assistance, you cannot provide comprehensive services. So you cannot provide abortion service, counseling referral, or even advocate for the liberalization of laws within your own country. It’s a direct attack on an ability of an organization to use private funding to fund needed services or change needed policies within their countries.

SHARMINI PERIES Right. And what is your estimate of the impact that this is going to have, this expansion is going to have, on the organizations that are providing these kinds of services?

JONATHAN RUCKS So the first expansion is when the Trump administration first took office and they expanded this policy to cover all U.S. global health assistance. This most recent expansion, I think it’s much harder for us to quantify that number. We know the number of U.S. global health assistance that’s appropriated annually. That’s about $9 billion. The second expansion that the administration announced at the end of March, now targets all of the other donors around the world. So other country governments, like the government of Canada or the United Kingdom, private foundations like the Gates Foundation, for example— all of this funding is now directly impacted by the global gag rule.

SHARMINI PERIES Now where they, as words cross so to speak in terms of this issue, is that some of this funding that is provided goes into maternal health and well-being of mothers, as well. Now how do organizations, particularly the ones you study, make that separation? Once you provide health— if let’s say you’re not carrying a healthy child and you want to terminate it by having an abortion, it appears that all of these services are going to be cut. It’s these specific services. How do you separate the two, is the question?

JONATHAN RUCKS You can’t separate them out. To comply with the global gag rule and to receive U.S. global health assistance, this is the commitment that you make, that you’re not going to provide comprehensive services, even if that goes against the mission statement of your organization. It’s a disastrous policy that is infiltrating and undermining health systems around the world and denying women and girls the ability to get services that they need.

SHARMINI PERIES And Jonathan, tell us about how you actually gathered the data and the information that is contained in your report and the analysis.

JONATHAN RUCKS P.A.I. has a long history of documenting the impact of this policy. We have been out now meeting with partners in a number of countries around the world— countries from Kenya to Uganda, to Nepal, to India— really trying to figure out how is this policy playing out. And it is touching every organization that we speak with. Every organization, whether they comply with the policy or not, are having to grapple with the impacts of this policy and figuring out, how do you now continue services and minimize the impact to individuals on the ground?

SHARMINI PERIES Jonathan, now this is a policy that the former Bush administration had also implemented. I remember Mrs. Bush going around the world, talking about why they were actually implementing this policy and it was detrimental then. It is detrimental once again in terms of women’s health, in terms of newborn babies’ health, and as well as obviously having access to abortion, which is legal in many of these countries. Now give us a sense of what are the forces behind this administration that is driving this policy?

JONATHAN RUCKS The expansion of this policy on the part of this administration in unfathomable ways, ways that the Bush administration didn’t even take expanding to all U.S. global health assistance, now expanding to all other donor funding. This is red meat that this administration is throwing to their conservative base. They continue, the Trump administration continues to push untruths about this policy. This is a policy that has nothing to do with protecting U.S. funding. It’s really a policy that this administration is using to shut down comprehensive service provision around the world and starve organizations who are working in countries to provide these services, of their funding.

SHARMINI PERIES And what benefit is there political— obviously, political benefit to this administration that is coming from the anti-abortion and the Christian right movement? Where is this coming from, this force?

JONATHAN RUCKS This is something to shore up that base, that very conservative base. It’s a policy that’s not grounded in fact. If it was grounded in fact, the policy wouldn’t be in existence and it certainly would not have been expanded twice in massive ways.

SHARMINI PERIES Alright, Jonathan. I thank you so much for joining us today and shedding light on this very important policy shift of this administration. And I look forward to following it further and having you back at some point in terms of the impact it’s having on the ground. I thank you for today.

JONATHAN RUCKS Thank you. Thank you so much.

SHARMINI PERIES And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.

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Sharmini Peries was a co-founder of TRNN, where she harnessed the power and expertise of civil society institutions. Previously, Sharmini was Economic and Trade Adviser to President Hugo Chavez at Miraflores and for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Venezuela. Prior to that she served as the executive director of the following institutions: The Commission on Systemic Racism in the Criminal Justice System, The International Freedom of Expression Exchange, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, and the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants. She also managed the Human Rights Code Review Task Force in Ontario, Canada. She holds a M.A. in Economics from York University in Toronto, Canada. Her Ph.D. studies in Social and Political Thought at York University remain incomplete (ABD).