Op-ed by Sandeep Prasad, Executive Director
Originally published in the Huffington Post
I can still remember the feeling I had the day Trump was elected. Among countless liberties and freedoms, reproductive rights were once again on the chopping block.
His vice-president, U.S. ambassador to the UN and nominated secretary of health and human services are all outspoken anti-choicers, he has made comments about punishing women who have abortions, has vowed to appoint anti-choice justices to the U.S. Supreme Court — specifically hoping the Court will overturn Roe v. Wade — and has suggested defunding Planned Parenthood and banning abortions after 20 weeks.
Many have since stood up against Trump’s anti-choice promises, including thousands of donations to Planned Parenthood under Mike Pence’s name.
That this presidency could have serious impacts on reproductive rights in the U.S. is clear. The Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights information and referral line has even received an increase in calls from Americans wondering how to get an abortion in Canada. But another serious concern is the global impact the election will have; the U.S. is the biggest donor for reproductive health in developing countries.
Despite the Helms Amendment, which has banned the provision of abortion related services in all U.S.-funded development projects since 1973, U.S. international assistance has played a significant role in reproductive health around the world.
In 2016 alone, the $607.5 million designated to U.S. International Family Planning Assistance provided 27 million women and couples with contraceptive services and supplies and prevented six million unintended pregnancies, two million unsafe abortions and 11,000 maternal deaths.
On top of the Helms Amendment, which will continue to be in effect, it is likely Trump will reinstate the Mexico City Policy (the Global Gag Rule), the presidential order that prohibits NGOs receiving U.S. funding from providing abortion services, information, counselling, referrals or advocacy. The Global Gag Rule goes far beyond the Helms Amendment’s limiting of funds; it muzzles pro-choice organizations.
Assuming Trump brings back the Global Gag Rule the day after his inauguration, existing projects will have 90 days to wrap-up before the policy comes into force. This could mean the closure of organizations and clinics that provide life-saving services. George W. Bush’s reinstatement of the policy in 2001 led to the closure and consolidation of clinics in Ghana, particularly in rural areas, and an increase in unwanted pregnancies, 20 per cent of which ended in abortion, many likely unsafe.
At the same time the U.S. is shifting toward anti-choice policies, two of Canada’s political parties — including the current government — have explicit pro-choice positions. Access to services are also likely to grow with PEI’s forthcoming on-island abortion clinic and the newly approved abortion pill (Mifegymiso), provided Health Canada remove current restrictions, including cost. While there is still a ways to go at home, Canada has the potential to be exactly what the world needs right now.
As our government assesses the impact of the Trump presidency on Canada’s foreign and domestic policy, one thing Trudeau and his cabinet ministers need to be paying close attention to is the future of funding and political support for these issues. Now more than ever, the Canadian government needs to stay true to its promise to close gaps in reproductive rights and health care for women.
The Minister of International Development, Marie-Claude Bibeau, has already made explicit Canada’s support for a comprehensive package of sexual and reproductive health services, including safe abortion care, contraceptives and comprehensive sexuality education. This is the time to make good on that. Canada’s role has been encouraging but in the face of U.S. backlash, the government needs to step it up. If Canada truly is the feminist country we desperately need, this needs to become more than the optics of a global champion for women’s rights, it needs to be about taking bold action when it’s needed most.
Four to eight years of a Trump presidency could have serious consequences for the next decade. Canada could position itself at the forefront of women’s rights globally by committing to a 10-year investment of $4.25 billion in new funds to close the gaps in the Muskoka Initiative: starting at $125 million in 2017/2018, ramping up to $500 million annually by 2020/2021 and staying at that level through 2026/2027. These numbers may seem high but put in perspective, they are actually less than was committed under Harper. With every single dollar spent, Canada would prevent more than four million unintended pregnancies, one million unsafe abortions, 50,000 maternal and newborn deaths and over 200,000 pregnancy related injuries.
This is the international engagement that makes a difference in the world. Canada has an opportunity to show what true leadership looks like by supporting women and girls in claiming their rights. The next four to eight years of a Trump presidency and those that follow will have a serious impact on too many lives. We can’t afford to sit and wait to see what happens.