Oxfam Response to US President Trump’s Executive Orders to reinstate the Global Gag Rule (Mexico City Policy)

January 30, 2017

Oxfam Canada strongly condemns the recent decision of the US Government to reinstate the Global Gag Rule, also known as the Mexico City Policy. This policy will leave a major funding gap for sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and severely impact access to services for women and adolescents in developing countries.

Canada must take fast action by allocating new funds to ensure adequate global financial flows for sexual and reproductive health and rights, including safe abortion, around the world. The Dutch Government quickly responded by announcing a commitment to allocate funds to fill this gap by creating a new global fund to support reproductive health initiatives in developing countries  and making that funding available to organizations affected by the policy. Canada must quickly follow suit to ensure that women around the world are not denied lawful safe abortion services and access to healthcare, as part of the government’s commitment to a feminist aid agenda.

The Global Gag Rule prohibits foreign NGOs receiving U.S. assistance related to family planning and reproductive health from using non-U.S. funding to provide abortion services, information, counselling or referrals and from engaging in advocacy for access to safe abortion services. The policy leads to shortages in resources, the closure of health facilities offering services for women, a chill-effect on all related care and the denial of lawful safe abortion services. The sheer scale of US resources dedicated to international family planning assistance is a significant $600 million annually, the largest donor in the area of SRHR. President Trump’s version of the policy is more extreme than past administrations as it extends to all global health assistance provided by US departments (estimated at having a financial impact 12-14 times greater than previous iterations of the policy) which could total as much as $9.5 billion in global health funding, including programming for maternal health, family planning, HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, and more.

The WHO estimates that 22 million unsafe abortions are performed each year, which amounts to 13% of maternal deaths worldwide. Restrictions on abortion, whether legal or otherwise, do not reduce abortion rates; rather, they force women to resort to unsafe services that put their health at risk and lives in danger. These cuts will have the greatest impact on the poorest women who already struggle to have access to healthcare, and will lead to an increase of unwanted pregnancy and unsafe abortion. Access to sexual and reproductive health is a human right and building block to ending poverty and achieving gender inequality.

Oxfam Canada, together with a group of likeminded organizations, has put forward a concrete proposal for Canadian leadership in the area of SRHR, called The Future Planning Initiative. This initiative, if adequately funded, would empower 18 million adolescents and women (the same number as all girls and women in Canada today) with full access to their sexual and reproductive health and rights. Oxfam Canada and others are calling for an initial investment of $125 million this year, ramping up to $500 million annually by 2020. A cornerstone of the initiative would be careful alignment of SRHR delivery with national priorities and support for local women’s and feminist organizations working to both deliver services and undertake advocacy.

Oxfam Canada calls on Canada to demonstrate support for the Future Planning Initiative and global SRHR by ensuring the promotion of, and access to, the full range of sexual and reproductive health services and information, including contraception, family planning, comprehensive sexuality education, as well a women’s right to choose a safe abortion. Canada must take leadership to help close the gap left by the enactment of the Global Gag Rule. This aligns with the government’s commitment to feminist approach to aid and could not be more timely.

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