(CNN)What does it mean to be pro-life? In today’s GOP, one thing: restricting access to safe abortion.
Even if this doesn’t actually decrease the number of abortions, but just makes them more dangerous. Even if it means women and their children remain poor and vulnerable. Even if it means cutting off other necessary health care and aid. Even if it means women are injured. Even if it means women and babies die.
It’s the “pro-life” performance that matters more than actual lives.
Case in point: Republicans in Texas are now begging for the Medicaid dollars they gave up in order to defund Planned Parenthood four years ago.
Should the Trump administration give Texas the Medicaid money it wants, it will open the door for other states to defund Planned Parenthood, too, a favorite cause of the anti-abortion right.
Never mind that Planned Parenthood primarily prevents the unintended pregnancies that often end in abortion by providing affordable (and often free) contraception to women in need. Never mind the HIV and STI tests and the cancer screenings Planned Parenthood provides, and that there are many women for whom Planned Parenthood is the closest high-quality provider of health care.
Women of faith and their abortions
In the name of being “pro-life,” Texas Republicans cut those women off from the care they trust. And not just them — to punish Planned Parenthood for offering a legal medical procedure (and not a dollar of Medicaid or other federal funds pays for elective abortions), Texas Republicans were happy to refuse millions of Medicaid dollars to care for the poorest women in their state.
This is in a state where 27% of births are funded by Medicaid — a number that rose after Texas defunded Planned Parenthood and poor women found it more challenging to access contraception and legal abortion.
This bizarre definition of “pro-life” extends overseas, too. In what is largely seen as a gift to his anti-abortion base, Trump expanded the Gag Rule, and this week his State Department broadened the order, which strips US funds from any organization abroad that so much as mentions abortion as an option for women — even groups that don’t provide abortions at all but simply tell women their legal rights.
Under previous Republican presidents, the Gag Rule applied only to family planning funds (about $600 million under George W. Bush). Now it applies to $8.8 billion in US global health funding, including programs for HIV and malaria. Because American dollars have been barred from funding abortions since the 1970s, none of the funding subject to this rule was paying for abortions in the first place.
Studies of the Gag Rule have shown that it doesn’t actually decrease abortions, but because it does cut off access to contraception, it actually makes abortion rates go up. Who knows what will happen when the rule cuts off access to HIV drugs or vaccines.
I’ve reported on the Global Gag Rule from Ghana, one of the countries hit hardest by Bush’s version of the rule. What most pro-lifers in America don’t seem to realize — or don’t care about — is that the health systems in developing countries are fragile and still being built, often in places that have seen recent conflict, and where there are low levels of public trust and long histories of trauma.
Donald Trump’s evolving stance on abortion
Many millions of people still lack access to basic health care, usually because of poverty or lack of proximity to a clinic. Health providers have done their best to centralize care, so a person can get contraception, HIV treatment, malaria pills and vaccinations from a single clinic or a mobile midwife going door to door in the village. And they’ve tried to build trust in that system. The Gag Rule undermines all of that.
Trump also froze funding to UNFPA, a group that doesn’t provide abortions but does provide education and contraception. In Niger, where women have an average of seven children apiece, UNFPA works where few others do: The group runs “husband schools” to help educate men about getting their children in school, being respectful of their wives and spacing pregnancies so their wives and babies don’t die.
In Nigeria, UNFPA is in refugee camps, tending to girls who have been kidnapped, raped and often impregnated by Boko Haram militants. But despite caring for so many rape victims, a UNFPA spokeswoman told me last year, they don’t offer abortions.
Women around the world, from Texas to Tanzania, being cut off from modern family-planning tools. Children in some of the world’s poorest corners losing their vaccinations and malaria medicine. People with HIV finding that the local NGO delivering their medicine must shutter for lack of funds. Health care providers forced to lie to their patients, and women doing what desperate women have always done — taking matters in to their own hands, and sometimes not living to tell about it.