Shortly after taking office, Donald Trump misguidedly reinstated an executive order banning U.S. aid to any international organization that supports abortion related activities, including counseling or referrals. This policy is often referred to as the “global gag rule” on women’s reproductive health, supposedly aimed at reducing the number of abortions performed worldwide. First applied by Reagan as an executive action in 1984, the global gag rule as been restored and rescinded repeatedly by administrations for 17 of the past 32 years.
Seemingly well meaning and driven by the religious principles held by some members of our society, what have the results shown? Since the policy defunds—and thus incapacitates—organizations that provide education and contraceptive services, and their functions actually reduce the need for abortions. Thus the resulting evidence indicates that the defunding policy actually increases abortion rates, which in turn increases pregnancy related complications, maternal mortality, increased reliance on unsafe abortions, and higher rates of unsafe sex that include more HIV infections.
An important study published in 2011 compared the changes in the number of abortions in 20 countries in sub-Saharan Africa over a fifteen year period after the restrictive policy was implemented. Unsurprisingly, women living in the countries most affected by this U.S. Gag policy had 2.6 times the odds of having an abortion in comparison with those residing in countries least affected. Similar results had been previously disclosed in a smaller study performed in Ghana in 2006; moreover, this latter study found that the gag policy also resulted in poorer nutritional status in the affected children.
Another similar example is provided by the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPEAR). Since 2004, in an effort to control the global epidemic of AIDS, PEPFAR has provided aid for prevention, treatment, and care of HIV infections in many low-income countries. It increased the access to antiretroviral therapy, which is an evidence-based effective strategy for reducing transmission of HIV and related mortality. That investment has reduced global mortality by an estimated 700,000 adults within the program’s first four years alone, with related economic and employment gains.
By contrast, PEPEAR included a prevention program based upon urging sexual “abstinence and be faithful,” a strategy that has never been demonstrated to be effective in any context. This strategy originally received one-third of the PEPFAR budget. After a decade and a cumulative cost of more than $1.4 billion, a published study showed no measurable impact on disease rates and consequences.
The lesson from these experiences? Scientific data always “trumps” ideology, no matter how seemingly well-intended! Such ineffective and misguided foreign policies, already begun by Trump, ignore scientific analysis and undermine our ability to support global development as well as wasting valuable resources. This will ultimately—directly or indirectly—hurt the American people.
It seems that Trump’s anti-scientific policies may be disastrous in many other ways as well!