There was nothing unexpected about President Trump’s reinstatement of the Mexico City policy (known as the global gag rule) in the first days of his presidency. Trump’s administration is the latest in a line of American presidencies that have played fast and loose with sexual and reproductive health and rights. After the 1973 historic Roe v Wade ruling upholding the rights of American women to decide whether to terminate a pregnancy,1 Senator Jesse Helms supported an amendment to the 1961 Foreign Assistance Act to ensure that no US funds could be used to pay for abortions “as a method of family planning or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions.”2
Variations on the Helms amendment have shuffled back and forth across the American legislature in the ensuing four decades, but the Mexico City policy, enacted under President Reagan in 1984, proved to be the most contentious because it restricted US funding to foreign non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that provide voluntary abortion services, even if those services do not use American funds directly for abortions.3 This policy was overturned by President Clinton (1993), reinstated by President G W Bush (2001), rescinded again under President Obama (2009), and re-established by President Trump.
Trump’s version, however, goes further and requires implementation of a plan “to extend the requirements of the reinstated Memorandum to global health assistance furnished by all departments or agencies.”3 In other words, it potentially restricts American funding not only to foreign NGOs but to all other recipients that enable the provision of safe abortion services; this could include governments as well as the United Nations system.