President Joe Biden will sign a presidential memorandum on Thursday to reverse restrictions on abortion access domestically and abroad imposed and expanded by the Trump administration, according to the Biden administration.
President Biden will be fulfilling a campaign promise in the memorandum, rescinding the so-called Mexico City Policy, a ban on US government funding for foreign non-profits that perform or promote abortions.
The Trump administration reinstated the restriction in 2017 by the presidential memorandum and then extended it to cover all applicable US global health funding. That made some $9.5 billion in aid for everything from HIV treatment to clean water projects and child immunizations contingent on groups agreeing not to discuss or perform abortions.
The memorandum will also direct the Health and Human Services Department to immediately move to consider rescinding the Trump administration’s rule blocking health care providers in the federally funded Title X family planning programme from referring patients for abortions.
Taken together, the actions show an administration receptive to at least the initial requests of advocates eager to codify a new era of abortion protections after the prior administration took restrictions on the procedure to unprecedented levels.
The Biden administration’s announcement coincides with the eve of anti-abortion activists holding the annual March for Life event on Friday — though this year it will be virtual. Former President Donald Trump made history in 2020 by being the first sitting President to participate in the event, which for decades has drawn large crowds of supporters each year to the National Mall.
The moves come as health care providers, reproductive rights groups and progressive lawmakers seek a more permanent end to longstanding barriers to the procedure.
Abortion access abroad
Beyond US borders, the impact of Trump’s expanded Mexico City Policy, formally called “Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance,” has “really been devastating,” said Melvine Ouyo, a Nairobi-based reproductive health nurse and former clinic director at Family Health Options Kenya. “So many lives were lost.”
The policy, also known as the “global gag rule,” has been instituted by Republican administrations since President Ronald Reagan and repealed by Democratic ones.
A State Department review published last year of the Trump administration’s policy to bar funding for foreign nonprofits that perform or promote abortions found it has also affected efforts to treat tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS as well as to deliver nutritional assistance, among other programs, and has had a significant impact in sub-Saharan Africa.
Advocates and practitioners like Ouyo say the deaths result from the cuts to health care of all kinds for women, including access to contraception, which sends them in search of illegal, often unsafe and deadly abortions.
“This global gag rule has been one of the most detrimental policies to women’s lives, especially women coming from marginalized communities,” Ouyu told CNN. “Biden really has a lot to do.”
Seema Jalan, executive director of the Universal Access Project and Policy at the United Nations Foundation, said advocates see an opportunity for the Biden administration to work with Congress to make broad changes.
She cited the Helms Amendment — which bars US foreign aid for performing or promoting abortion, not just to foreign non-profits, but to governments, multilateral organizations and US non-profits — and the Hyde amendment, which imposes similar restrictions on groups within the US.
The policies currently allow for abortions in cases of rape, incest or a threat to the pregnant person’s life.”There’s the hard work of the administration working with Congress putting in place permanent solutions to harmful policy: addressing global gag, Helms, Hyde, and other technical fixes that are highly consequential,” Jalan said.