In one of his first actions as president, President Trump signed an executive order banning U.S. funding for abortions performed or promoted overseas. The rule prevents any federal money from going towards any global health charity or non-governmental organization (NGO) performing abortions, even if that’s only a small portion of their services. It even bans the money for organizations that merely promote or discuss abortions.
This reverses the Obama-era rule which allowed such funding. Democrats in Congress introduced legislation that would bring the Obama-era rule back.
What the executive order does, and what the bill to repeal it does
Abortion funding from federal dollars has long been illegal under a rule that pre-dated Obama. What this rule does instead is prevent federal money from going to global organizations even for other services, such as contraception, abortion counseling, or other forms of health care.
The policy was instituted by Republican President Ronald Reagan in 1984, and since then it has become among of the most controversial of all American social policies. Every subsequent president has either repealed or reinstituted the policy within their first week of taking office: Democrat Bill Clinton repealing it, Republican George W. Bush reinstituting it, Democrat Barack Obama repealing it again, Republican Trump reinstituting it again.
Trump’s reinstitution does contain exemptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother — but it’s also broader in scope that Bush and Reagan’s versions, covering all global health organizations which receive U.S. funding, not just family planning organizations as previous iterations had. The new rule will cover 15 times more U.S. funding than previous versions, now totalling about $9.5 billion instead of the previous $608 million, and 60 countries instead of the previous 40.
The Global Health, Empowerment, and Rights Act — or the HER Act — was introduced last week by Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY17) and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). The legislation, marked H.R. 671 in the House and and S. 210 in the Senate, would return to the rule that was in place until only a few weeks ago, instead of the new policy sometimes colloquially referred to as the “gag rule” or the Mexico City policy.
Who supports the bill
Supporters of the bill worry that the new policy will harm women’s health worldwide, limits physicians’ freedom to practice medicine, and might serve as a precursor to more drastic actions such a federal personhood amendment or the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade later during the Trump administration.
“We know that the way to decrease unplanned pregnancies and abortions is to make birth control and family planning services accessible and affordable, not micromanage the type of medical information and reproductive health counseling that women around the world receive,” Senate lead sponsor Shaheensaid in a statement. “Many clinics rely on U.S.-supported global health and family planning programs so they can provide critical health care such as contraceptive services, HIV treatment, and Zika prevention, to women in their communities.”
Who opposes the bill
Of course, considering the bill would repeal a Trump executive order, the administration opposes the legislation. Although Trump does not appear to have spoken about it directly since signing the order, administration press secretary Sean Spicer said, “He wants to stand up for all Americans, including the unborn, and I think the reinstatement of this policy is not just something that echoes that value but respects taxpayer funding as well.”
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, one of the largest advocacy organizations promoting pro-life policies, said, “This is a vital step in the journey to make America great again, recognizing and affirming the universal ideal that all human beings have inherent worth and dignity, regardless of their age or nationality.”
Odds of passage
Almost every Democrat has jumped on board, with 137 House cosponsorsand 46 Senate cosponsors. No Republicans are cosponsoring in the House, though two have in the Senate: Susan Collins (R-ME) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). With Republicans controlling Congress and the White House, odds of passage are slim to none, but send a clear message to Trump and also increase the likelihood that if a Democrat enters the White House again, it should be one of their top priorities to repeal the gag rule.
The bills have been referred to the House Foreign Affairs and Senate Foreign Relations Committees, where they have yet to receive a vote.