U.S. President Donald Trump’s first ten days in office were replete with shocking executive orders and fulfilled campaign promises. One action that reverberated across the globe was the reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy, or the global gag rule as it’s commonly called.
This policy typically prevents international organizations that receive U.S. family planning funds from providing or even discussing abortion, even if done with their own independent funds, since U.S. funds are already prohibited from covering abortion (both domestically and worldwide).
The Mexico City Policy leaves many international organizations with a choice: Go without U.S. funding or stop providing life-saving abortion services and counseling.
While reinstating the Mexico City Policy, Trump took it upon himself to expand it even further by dictating that international organizations that receive any type of global health funds from the U.S. can no longer provide or discuss abortions.
That means $9.5 billion in U.S. foreign aid is now impacted as opposed to the $600 million in family planning funding that would typically be affected under this policy.
Since these dollars would not have contributed to abortion services in the first place, the Mexico City Policy simply serves to obstruct the reproductive freedoms of women in far-flung corners of the world – women who could not vote in November’s election.
Under the Mexico City Policy, a combination of two changes to the international healthcare market will occur. First, there will be fewer places to get a safe abortion due to organizations accepting U.S. global health funds with these strings attached.
Secondly, organizations that choose to continue providing comprehensive healthcare that includes abortion will have fewer resources, as they will no longer be eligible for U.S. global health funds.
Fewer resources will lead to decreased access to contraceptive methods which typically results in unwanted pregnancies. Unwanted pregnancies often necessitate abortions but with fewer places to get a safe abortion, women will turn to unsafe procedures that put their lives at risk.
Unsafe abortion is a major contributor to maternal mortality in the developing world – eight-to-18 percent of maternal deaths across the globe can be attributed to this with the majority occurring in Africa.
Up to 44,000 women died in 2014 alone due to unsafe abortions. Marie Stopes International, a London-based international health organization that does work in the safe abortion arena, estimates that just without their services, 6.5 million unintended pregnancies, 2.2 million abortions, 2.1 million unsafe abortions, and nearly 22,000 maternal deaths will occur throughout this presidential term.
The Jewish concept of pikuach nefesh instructs us to do everything in our power to save a life, even if it means ignoring biblical law. Why, then, should we sit on our hands while women all over the world will die due to the uninformed and cruel decision of a few white men in America?
Why do Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump get to invoke pikuach nefesh to protect their own lives while being chauffeured around town on Friday night?
The Mexico City Policy is not about protecting “life”—both safe and unsafe abortions increased during George W. Bush’s tenure due to the decreased contraceptive efforts of those organizations who refuse to be controlled by this vindictive policy. The Mexico City Policy will result in thousands of lives lost.
As Jews, we are charged with repairing the world—tikkun olam. Repairing the world should not come with unjust and extraneous strings attached. We must be attentive and recognize what exactly it is that needs repairing.
Context is essential: one woman dies every other minute in childbirth in the developing world; 55 infants die in Africa for every 1000 babies born there; over 200 million women across the world want, but don’t have access to modern contraceptive methods. Now is not the time to be rolling back assistance to those in need.
In the Torah portion of Shoftim lie the famous words: tzedek tzedek tirdof—justice justice you shall pursue. Pursue justice by inviting your “pro-life” friends and members of Congress to continue to care for life after birth by supporting affordable health care for all, universal pre-K, paid family and medical leave, and improved education systems.
Pursue justice by calling your senators and representatives, volunteering for a cause you feel passionately about, or donating to your local abortion fund or international health organization of choice.
It’s truly a shame that religious values are invoked while instating policies that unnecessarily control women’s bodies and lead to dangerous outcomes. Instead, let us focus more on saving lives, repairing the world and pursuing justice together.
Shira Berman holds a master's degree in public health, with a focus in maternal and child health. She works for an international health organization based in Washington, D.C.
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