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Maternal deaths: looking to the impacts of the Trump administration on abortion

President Trump has recently reinstated the Mexico City Policy, originally enacted by President Reagan in 1984, an extension of the 1973 Helms Amendment preventing the use of federal spending on abortion “as a method of family planning”. [1] The Mexico City Policy restricts non-government organisations (NGOs) which receive United States Agency for International Development (USAID) funding from spending on abortion services. Due to the political nature of this policy and its global extension of the domestic abortion debate, all Democrat presidents have repealed the policy, whilst all Republican presidents reinstated it. However, where Trump differs from previous Republican president is in the enlargement in scope of the policy. The increased powers of this policy will affect the entirety of American global health aid, and prevent all NGOs or international organisations that receive American funding from not just providing abortions, but will also include the prohibition of these organisations from supplying information or in anyway aiding women in securing an abortion. Whilst the Mexico City policy previously affected the $575 million supplied by USAID, the new version under Trump will be able to restrict or cut $9.5 billion of total global health aid. [2]

The increase policy will affect not only those NGOs that receive US funding, but will have a trickle down effect upon smaller field operations that are funded by larger organisations. For instance, International Planned Parenthood Federation has partners which it helps to fund in 170 countries and will lose a predicted $100 million as a result of the policies restrictions. [3] This will have a knock on effect for those organisations that also provide funding for other projects in health services such as malaria treatment. Those organisations that refuse to sign the policy as a matter of principle face severe challenges in finding other methods of funding. Countries such as Canada have stated that they will increase global health spending to fill the void left by the policy reduction, however this will still leave a massive deficit.

The World Health Organisation calculates that worldwide, 21.6 million women undertake unsafe abortions, of which 47,000 die from complications. [4] The increased strength of Trump’s policy will reverse the decline in maternal mortality, which saw a 5.5% decrease between 2000-2010. [5] Furthermore, reduced funding for family planning as a whole under Trump's amendment of the policy could result in wider damages, for instance an increasing incidence and prevalence of HIV/AIDS (although the Bush interpretation of the policy included exceptions for those at risk of HIV/AIDS). The policy may also increase the impact of the Zika virus on the local community. It is also important to note here that it has been quantifiably proven this policy increases abortion where US funding is heavily relied upon. [6] Therefore, whilst it will not prevent abortions, the Mexico City policy will increase the amount of unsafe abortions and resulting adverse effects. It has been estimated that this increased Mexico City policy could result in an estimated 21,700 maternal deaths in Trump’s first term alone. [7]

The women’s health Polygeia research team will focus specifically on the effect that Trump’s Mexico City Policy will have in Latin America. This region has been specifically chosen as to open our eyes to the issues related to women's health in the wider developing world. Furthermore to examine the role of socio-political context specific to Latin American countries, including a combination of Catholicism, wealth inequality, cultural stigma towards abortion and contraception, as well as America’s historical role in the continent. Latin America includes a wide variety of countries with varying policies towards abortion, for instance Chile, Nicaragua and El Salvador have the strictest policies with blanket bans on abortion, whilst Mexico has completely legalised abortion. Importantly, Latin America still has the largest unsafe abortion rate in the world.

The team has already received interest from the Department of International Development in this research project and hope to have this policy paper used in the Houses of Parliament. It is hoped that through this, the message of the policy paper and the detrimental effects of the extension of the Mexico City Policy will receive wider public attention. Furthermore, this paper could be use as part of a large role in justifying an increase of British aid to make up for the loss of US aid. As well as to the encourage the British government to place diplomatic pressure upon the Trump administration to adjust and lessen the extent of the Mexico City Policy.

Ross Field, is currently studying Security Studies MSc at UCL and works as a contributor to the Organisation of World Peace.






[5] [6]



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