It's Time to Stop the Trump Administration's Global War on Women | Opinion

Throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, the United States has often set the foreign policy agenda for the rest of the world. In particular, the decisions made in Washington, D.C. have a significant impact on the lives and wellbeing of our neighbors to the south, especially for Latin American women and girls. Since the start of Donald Trump's presidency, his Administration has not only turned a blind eye to blatant human rights and women rights violations, but has gone even further to actively prevent women in Latin America and around the world from receiving much needed funding that ensures services for reproductive care.

Some of the Administration's actions, guided by religion and Trump's personal agenda, have flown under the radar, while others—like its immigration policy—have been highly publicized. But whether they are reported on or not, their consequences on women's health and families worldwide are very real and must not be underestimated.

When taken altogether over the course of almost four years, the result of these actions is a major step backward for the United States' foreign policy agenda. And now, the Administration is using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to place even more restrictions on women's healthcare and safety.

Trump's assault on women's healthcare began within the first few days of his presidency. On January 23, 2017, he reinstated and expanded the Global Gag rule, also known as the Mexico City policy. It prohibits U.S. global health assistance organizations from providing information, resources, or services on legal and safe abortions. The consequences were immediate: the rule created confusion and barriers to access across the globe, as organizations suddenly found their hands tied by an Administration determined to stop reproductive care.

But instead of decreasing the number of abortions, the Global Gag rule does the exact opposite. The lack of funding for contraception and maternal health care has dramatically increased the number of abortions around the world. In fact, abortion rates in Latin America and Africa have tripled due to the Global Gag rule.

Just a year later, the State Department, a key influencer in the protection of human rights across the world, removed reproductive health from its widely consulted annual country reports. The move sparked an outcry even from officials within the State Department, who claimed that "This sends a clear signal that women's reproductive rights are not a priority for this administration." This policy deliberately ignores and omits major human rights abuses happening throughout the Americas—just look to El Salvador, a country with a total abortion ban where numerous women have been wrongfully imprisoned for suffering miscarriages.

As Trump's presidency continued, cruel immigration policies became the priority. Women and children fleeing gang and sexual violence in Central and South America are denied asylum and placed in camps at the border. But sadly, the assault on their sexual and reproductive wellbeing continues, even while on U.S. soil. When women arrive at the border, their children are ripped away from them, their menstrual cycles are monitored, they are sexually abused, and they are denied even the most basic menstrual hygiene products. Often, they are deported back to countries where abortion is criminalized and violence against women is at crisis levels, some dying shortly after being sent back.

In 2020, the Coronavirus pandemic put healthcare access front and center of U.S. and global policy. How, where, and when we get care became more important than ever, as did ensuring that other healthcare needs are still met amid a global public health emergency. Instead of protecting and advancing access to care, the President used a moment of crisis and fear to advance anti-science ideology, further endangering women and girls in countries with already precarious healthcare systems.

In May 2020, John Barsa, head of USAID, sent a letter to the United Nations Secretary General demanding that sexual and reproductive healthcare be removed from the UN's COVID-19 response plan. Barsa sent the letter the same day that Trump threatened to pull funding from the World Health Organization in the middle of a pandemic. In addition to blocking safe and legal abortions, this administration also prevent access to basic reproductive services, including access to contraception, HIV/AIDS treatment, and hormonal treatment.

Using a pandemic to strip away healthcare is not only wrong, but also dangerous. The UN Population Fund estimates that barriers to care placed because of COVID-19 could result in millions of unwanted pregnancies, which will lead to thousands of deaths from unsafe and clandestine abortions. As the pandemic continues, contraception is becoming more difficult to find, and gender-based violence is rising at frightening rates. The United States can directly support the health of women and girls at home and abroad. Instead, this Administration is actively working against them.

In just a few years, the Trump Administration has turned the United States from a key supporter of healthcare for women and girls into its primary antagonist. As we find ourselves battling a pandemic, the President is doubling down, risking the health and lives of some of the world's most vulnerable populations.

Now more than ever, we must reject ideology, put aside politics, and do what is right: listen to healthcare experts, remove barriers to care, and above all, protect and defend the health of women and girls.

Paula Avila-Guillen is a human rights attorney and Executive Director of the Women's Equality Centre. She tweets at @pauavilg.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.