Trump Considering ‘Domestic Gag Rule’ to Ban Those Receiving Federal Family-Planning Funds From Mentioning Abortion Services

A domestic gag rule might well knock Planned Parenthood right out of the business of serving over a million low-income women with contraceptive services. Photo: Melanie Stetson Freeman/Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images

Those who follow the politics and policy surrounding abortion are familiar with a particular flash point known as “the global gag rule” or alternatively the “Mexico City Policy” (a reference to the city where it was first announced as U.S. policy). First promulgated by Ronald Reagan in 1984, and then routinely revoked by Democratic presidents and reinstated by Republican presidents (including Donald Trump), the rule has been an important source of the anti-abortion movement’s bond with the GOP. Here’s how the Kaiser Family Foundation defines it:

The policy requires foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to certify that they will not “perform or actively promote abortion as a method of family planning,” using funds from any source (including non-U.S. funds), as a condition for receiving U.S. government global family planning assistance and, as of Jan. 23, 2017, any other U.S. global health assistance.

The last phrase refers to a major expansion of the gag rule by the Trump administration to cover the entire $8 billion in U.S. international health assistance, not just the $600 million earmarked for family-planning assistance.

But now Team Trump is considering an even more dramatic expansion of the policy into the domestic family-planning arena, as explained by Anna North at Vox:

The White House is reportedly considering a domestic gag rule that would essentially apply the restrictions of the global rule to providers that receive federal Title X funds, which help low-income patients get services like contraceptive counseling and testing for sexually transmitted infections. Such a rule would force Planned Parenthood and other reproductive health providers to either stop discussing abortions with their patients or stop receiving Title X money.

And actually, if it tracks the international gag rule, the domestic version would force even those family-planning providers who are willing to shut up about abortion services while serving Title X patients to stop providing them to other women. That would be a direct shot at Planned Parenthood, which serves an estimated 41 percent of the 4 million women accessing Title X assistance.

The domestic gag rule has been on the agenda for anti-abortion activists for a long time, and a particular project for one of their favorite politicians, Vice-President Mike Pence. It was actually put in place by the Reagan administration in 1988, but was only in effect for a month; it was held up in court long enough for Bill Clinton to take office and rescind it. Aside from Pence’s avid support, the other major reason this is an administration priority is that it represents a way to partially implement Trump’s campaign promise to end federal funding for Planned Parenthood. A full ban requires congressional action, which has repeatedly been blocked in the Senate by a coalition of Democrats and the two remaining pro-choice Republican senators (Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski).

If you think this is a perilous thing for the administration to do in the middle of an election year when Democrats would love to mobilize pro-choice voters, you aren’t looking through the same lens as Republicans, as explained by Axios in discussing apparent intra-White House pushback on the gag-rule expansion:

A conservative leader involved in the policy fight told Axios it would be “​political suicide” for Trump to abandon the policy. “I just don’t understand why they would betray a core campaign promise during a midterm election year where there are a lot of key House and Senate races where this is a winning issue in light of the polling,” the source added.

Meanwhile, White House Political Director Bill Stepien compiled a list for Trump — showing that of the top 50+ competitive House races, every single sitting Republican is pro-life. 

Attacking Planned Parenthood and other family-planning providers has become something of a no-brainer for all but a few Republican pols, and an increasingly impatient demand from their anti-abortion constituencies, which include, of course, conservative white Evangelical activists. So advocates for reproductive rights, and for women’s health, and for low-income Americans, should brace for very bad news, and probably fights in actual courts and in the court of public opinion.

Trump Considering Anti-Abortion ‘Domestic Gag Rule’