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What Trump’s Executive Order About International Abortion Funding Means

The research suggests the order doesn’t reduce abortions—and may, in fact, make them more common, in some cases.
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Photo showing President Donald Trump signing executive orders at his desk

President Donald Trump signs three Executive Orders on January 23rd, 2017.

President Donald Trump signed three directives this morning, one of which appears to be a ban preventing United States aid money from going to international health charities that provide, or refer their clients to, abortions, USA Today reports.

The ban—also known as the Mexico City Policy, or the “Global Gag Rule” among opponents—was first announced by the Reagan administration during a United Nations conference in Mexico City in 1984. Since then, incoming presidents have either rescinded or reinstated it, depending on their party politics. But the existing research suggests the Mexico City Policy does not reduce abortion. One study found that, when the policy was in effect, abortion rates actually rose in 20 sub-Saharan African nations. Another study found that, in Ghana, rural women get more abortions while the policy is active. International data since 1990 suggests that abortion rates in developing countries haven’t changed significantly.

Researchers suspect the reason behind these upticks in abortions is that it’s harder for aid-dependent clinics to offer contraceptives of any kind while the Mexico City Policy is in place, which leads to more unwanted pregnancies. After all, taxpayer money is already forbidden from funding abortions directly, whether at home or abroad; the Mexico City Policy removes American-aid funding from organizations that may provide other—likely contraceptive—services.

The Mexico City Policy is just one rule that affects how much American aid goes to family planning abroad. America’s policies on contraception worldwide matter to many: The U.S. government “is one of the largest purchasers and distributors of contraceptives internationally,” the Kaiser Family Foundation reports. In 2016, America spent about 2 percent of its foreign-aid budget, or about $260 million, on reproductive health services alone. It remains to be seen what the Trump administration will do about other international family planning aid policies, such as whether it will contribute to the U.N. Population Fund.