On January 23, President Donald Trump issued an executive order reinstating and secretly expanding the scope of the global gag rule, an anti-choice restriction banning the U.S. from providing foreign aid to nongovernmental organizations that privately fund or promote abortion care. A Media Matters study found that in a week of evening coverage on the three major cable news networks, only MSNBC reported on the disastrous consequences of Trump’s reinstatement and unprecedented expansion of the global gag rule.
Trump Issued An Executive Order To Reinstate -- And Secretly Expand -- The Global Gag Rule
Wash. Post: Trump Signed An “Executive Order That Resurrects An Abortion-Related Rule Known As The Mexico City Policy” Or Global Gag Rule. The Washington Post reported on January 23 that Trump had signed several executive orders, one of which “resurrects an abortion-related rule known as the Mexico City policy.” This restriction, also called the global gag rule, originated from President Ronald Reagan’s administration and “has toggled back and forth each time a different party has assumed power in the White House.” As the Post noted, when in place, the rule typically “forbids foreign nongovernmental organizations that receive federal funding from performing or promoting abortion services through their work in other countries” (emphasis added):
Trump then signed a third executive order that resurrects an abortion-related rule known as the Mexico City policy, which tends to be embraced by Republican presidents and rescinded by Democratic presidents. The policy forbids foreign nongovernmental organizations that receive federal funding from performing or promoting abortion services through their work in other countries. The policy takes its name from the location of a conference at which President Ronald Reagan instituted the restriction in 1984. Opponents of this policy often call it the “global gag rule.”
The rule, or its absence, has toggled back and forth each time a different party has assumed power in the White House. So it stayed in place under President George H.W. Bush and then was rescinded by President Bill Clinton on Jan. 22, 1993. When President George W. Bush came into office in 2001, he imposed the rule that Jan. 22, the 23rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the United States. President Barack Obama lifted the rule on Jan. 23, 2009. [The Washington Post, 1/23/17]
Slate: With “Little Publicity,” Trump’s Executive Order Actually “Massively Expanded The Rule.” The day after Trump reinstated the global gag rule, Slate’s Michelle Goldberg warned that, counter to previous reporting, the executive order actually “massively expanded the rule.” In a January 24 article, Goldberg wrote that Trump made this change “with so little publicity that activists weren’t aware until someone saw the new language in a tweeted image” -- notably, a tweet from “an anti-abortion activist that appeared to include a screenshot of the new language.” Unlike previous versions of the global gag rule, Trump’s executive action expands the scope of the restriction to cover all U.S. global health funding, rather than just family planning funds. The difference, Goldberg explained, “means that rather than impacting $600 million in U.S. foreign aid, the global gag rule will affect $9.5 billion.” From Slate (emphasis added):
By Monday’s end, however, people who work on global reproductive health and rights were reeling. Trump, it eventually emerged, hadn’t simply revived the so-called global gag rule. Quietly, with so little publicity that activists weren’t aware until someone saw the new language in a tweeted image, Trump had massively expanded the rule. Suzanne Ehlers, president and CEO of the global reproductive health organization PAI, says it’s the global gag rule “on steroids.”
In the past, the global gag rule meant that foreign NGOs must disavow any involvement with abortion in order to receive U.S. family planning funding. Trump’s version of the global gag rule expands the policy to all global health funding. According to Ehlers, the new rule means that rather than impacting $600 million in U.S. foreign aid, the global gag rule will affect $9.5 billion.
It took all day Monday for the scope of the policy to become clear because of the new administration’s opacity. Initially, when Trump signed the executive order, the White House didn’t release its exact wording. Reproductive health advocates called colleagues in the State Department and USAID, but no one seemed to know anything. “I had a staff person who tried to call the White House yesterday and was told that the White House telephone lines are down and they aren’t taking calls,” says Debra Hauser, president of Advocates for Youth, a group that champions sex education and sexual health services for young people. “Normally there’s a press release. You can look it up. That was not the case yesterday. Nothing.” Finally, at around 5 p.m., someone in the reproductive health field noticed a tweet by an anti-abortion activist that appeared to include a screenshot of the new language. “That is how we started to realize that it was an expansion and not just a reinstatement,” says Hauser. (The order has since been posted on the White House website.) [Slate, 1/24/17]
Vox: Expanded Gag Rule “Consequences Will Have Devastating Effects On The Health Of Women And Girls Around The Globe.” Vox’s Emily Crockett reported that the consequences of Trump’s decision “will have devastating effects on the health of women and girls around the globe.” Beyond family planning services, the expanded restriction “will likely prevent many global health organizations from offering HIV prevention and treatment services, maternal health care, and Zika virus prevention.” Crockett cited a statement from an international reproductive health organization that warned Trump’s “grotesque expansion targets the most effective health organizations in 60 low and middle income countries.” Crockett wrote: “The reality is simple and brutal. Reinstating the global gag rule will not reduce abortions … The gag rule will, however, lead to more women dying across the developing world.” From Vox (emphasis added):
“Trump’s Global Gag Rule is cruel and unusual in that it massively expands an already harmful policy,” said a statement from PAI [Population Action International]. “This grotesque expansion targets the most effective health organizations in 60 low and middle income countries.”
The funding cuts will go far beyond abortion, and even beyond contraception. They will likely prevent many global health organizations from offering HIV prevention and treatment services, maternal health care, and Zika virus prevention.
The effects of reinstating and expanding the gag rule now — especially after eight years of the Obama administration, which supported sexual and reproductive health in foreign aid — will be very messy, advocates say. The ripple effects and unintended consequences will have devastating effects on the health of women and girls around the globe. And while it will export the US abortion wars overseas, only foreign women will be the casualties.
The reality is simple and brutal. Reinstating the global gag rule will not reduce abortions.
The gag rule will, however, lead to more women dying across the developing world. Marie Stopes International estimates that without alternative funding, the loss of its services alone will cause 6.5 million unintended pregnancies, 2.2 million abortions, 2.1 million unsafe abortions, and 21,700 maternal deaths just in Trump’s first term, from 2017 to 2020. The organization says it will also be prevented from reaching 1.5 million women with contraception every year.
Studies conducted by PAI have shown that every time the global gag rule returns, more women in developing countries bear unwanted pregnancies, die or become disabled due to unsafe abortions, or lose crucial medical care. [Vox, 1/25/17]
Cable News Networks Largely Failed To Report The Consequences Of Trump’s Reinstatement
CNN Aired Two Evening Segments On The Gag Rule, But Neither Covered Its Consequences. From January 23 through January 27, CNN’s evening coverage included only two segments about the gag rule -- neither of which reported the consequences of Trump’s decision to reinstate the anti-choice policy. Beyond failing to inform viewers about critical details of Trump’s executive order, CNN actually misled audiences about the purpose of the rule. On the January 23 edition of The Situation Room, chief political correspondent Dana Bash inaccurately reported that the global gag rule represented a “big issue for a lot of conservatives” who “just cannot understand at all the idea of any federal funding being allowed to go toward any kind of abortion anywhere on the planet.” In reality, previous restrictions already bar the use of federal funding for abortion services overseas.
Both Fox News Segments About The Gag Rule Contained Misinformation, And Neither Mentioned The Rule’s Consequences. In a week of evening coverage, Fox News aired two segments about the gag rule, both of which inaccurately reported that the anti-choice policy simply prevented the funding of abortion overseas. Neither of the segments, which aired during Special Report and The Five, reported the disparate impact of the gag rule on low-income men and women in developing countries, or noted the rise in unsafe abortions during past reinstatements of the policy.
Only MSNBC Hosted Reproductive Health Experts Or Reported The Expansion Of The Gag Rule
MSNBC Was The Only Network To Host A Reproductive Rights Expert Or Report On The Gag Rule Expansion. Of the three cable news networks, only MSNBC hosted a reproductive rights professional to talk about the consequences of the global gag rule -- a decision that measurably improved the quality of its reporting. During the January 23 edition of All In with Chris Hayes, host Chris Hayes interviewed Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards about the implications of Trump’s executive order. Richards not only correctly identified that U.S. foreign aid funding did not bankroll international abortion services, but she also explained the myriad negative consequences of the policy. In addition, Richards informed Hayes that Trump’s executive order was actually an expansion from the previous version -- information Hayes then shared with audiences during the January 24 edition of his program. From the January 23 airing:
Even MSNBC Had Only One Segment Reporting The Consequences Of The Gag Rule. MSNBC aired three segments about the gag rule during the week of evening programming, one of which -- when Chris Hayes hosted Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards -- accurately reported the consequences of reinstating the anti-choice policy in detail (though Hayes mentioned the expansion the following night, it was not discussed at length). In one segment during MTP Daily, host Ari Melber inaccurately reported that Trump’s reinstatement of the gag rule involved “the banning of U.S. funds on abortions overseas.”
Media Matters reviewed Nexis transcripts of cable news networks CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News’ evening coverage (shows airing from 5 p.m. through 11 p.m. EST) for the all mentions of “abortion,” “gag rule,” or “Mexico” between January 23 and January 27. Passing mentions of the executive order were not included in this analysis -- only segments where either the stated topic was the gag rule or two or more speakers discussed the gag rule. The seven qualifying segments were then coded for:
incorrect statement that the gag rule was about “funding abortion overseas”;
correct statement that the gag rule involved funds for family planning;
statement that the gag rule has a disproportionate impact on low-income and marginalized communities;
statement that the gag rule would cause an increase in abortion or unsafe abortions;
statement reporting the expansion of the gag rule; and
- presence of a reproductive health expert to discuss the gag rule.
*Julie Alderman and Sarah Wasko contributed to this report