The Trump administration, which announced early this year that it would curtail American-funded women’s health services around the world that may be involved in any way in abortion, has turned its attention to curbing family planning in the United States.
Rules have been issued with immediate effect that American women can no longer obtain contraceptives under insurance plans offered by their employers’ or other groups. The government claims that the insurance coverage provided (and mandated) in the Obama-era Affordable Care Act violates the rights of religious objectors or undermines “religious freedom.”
The American Civil Liberties Union immediately filed a lawsuit charging discrimination against women. Other lawsuits are lining up to make the same case, arguing also that many poor women will not be able to afford to buy contraceptives at retail prices.
As this story unfolds, American nongovernmental organizations are still coming to terms with what is permissible globally under stringent Trump rules when dealing with American-funded programs that they or their service partners operate.
PAI, an independent research and advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C., has produced a detailed, comprehensive guide to the policy that the Trump administration disingenuously calls “Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance.” In reality, the US policy is a restatement and expansion of the Reagan-era Mexico City policy, better known in women’s health care circles as the global gag rule.
Introducing its guide, PAI summarizes where the US stands now in implementing its much tougher and more sweeping restrictions for those working in foreign countries and international organizations: “While the restrictions only applied to USG [US Government] family planning assistance during prior Republican presidential administrations, the Trump administration policy is imposed on virtually all USG global health assistance,” PAI wrote.
The guide continues: “The policy prohibits U.S. global health assistance from being provided to foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that perform abortions in cases other than threat to the life of the woman, rape or incest; provide counseling (including advice or information) and/or referral for abortion; or lobby to make abortion legal or more available in their own country, even if these activities are performed with funding from other, non-U.S. government (USG), sources.”
Such prohibitions largely contradict policies within the United Nations system, where services for women have become much more inclusive in recent years as conflicts and natural disasters have sent millions of women and girls into unprotected refugee camps or settlements for displaced people. UN agencies and their partners are permitted to provide women with a full range of reproductive health services, including emergency contraception to prevent conception, which American conservatives wrongly describe as abortion.
The PAI guide, “What You Need to Know About the ‘Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance Restrictions on U.S. Global Health Assistance,’ ” explains not only what cannot be done with US money, but also points out where there are exceptions to the rules which NGOs can explore.
Coming up: An online course in resilient ecological development work
Organizations and individuals who work on development in countries where natural resources are overstretched by a combination of factors, including climate change and population pressures, are aware of the need for more sustainable projects. To aid in their work, the United Nations Development Program, UNDP, is offering a two-part free online course on “resilience for development” beginning on Oct. 31.
The course, in English, French or Spanish, is jointly funded by UNDP and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, through SwedBio at the Stockholm Resilience Center, with input from other partner groups. It is intended to connect development organizations with participants from around the world to challenge assumptions and broaden knowledge. One aim is to ensure greater progress on the relevant Sustainable Development Goals.
The online program, which will award a certificate of completion, will include lessons from experts, assignments for participants and webinars and discussions.
The first part of the course, encompassing four weeks from Oct. 31 to Nov. 27, will focus on assessing resilience and learning how to put long-term thinking into practice. The second set of sessions is planned to run for three weeks, from Jan. 23 to Feb. 13. It will center on applying resilience thinking to biodiversity and national development planning.
Advance registration for the course is required. For details, see the direct link to the course and registration: https://www.conservationtraining.org/enrol/index.php?id=298
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Barbara Crossette is the senior consulting editor and writer for PassBlue and the United Nations correspondent for The Nation. She is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She has also contributed to the Oxford Handbook on the United Nations.
Previously, Crossette was the UN bureau chief for The New York Times from 1994 to 2001 and previously its chief correspondent in Southeast Asia and South Asia. She is the author of “So Close to Heaven: The Vanishing Buddhist Kingdoms of the Himalayas,” “The Great Hill Stations of Asia” and a Foreign Policy Association study, “India Changes Course,” in the Foreign Policy Association’s “Great Decisions 2015.”
Crossette won the George Polk award for her coverage in India of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and the 2010 Shorenstein Prize for her writing on Asia.