Article by Carly Jones

Following the Trump administration’s reinstallment of the “global gag rule” in January 2017, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) within the sexual and reproductive health and rights sector have been forced to choose between United States and Swedish aid. With this gag rule, foreign NGOs are only able to access U.S aid if they do not perform or promote abortion within the context of family planning. Under this umbrella even falls such services as legal advice and counseling. Sweden, a firm critic of the rule and strong advocate of abortion accessibility as imperative to effective health policy, has stated that aid will be discontinued to those compliant with this gag-rule: “We are, of course, very important moneywise but we are even more important, I think, when it comes to setting moral standards around women’s rights.” This polarization of aid has made the work of activists increasingly difficult; while many NGOs stand with Sweden in support of safe abortion, to have U.S aid revoked would be a devastating blow, as conveyed by Serra Sippel, president of the Center for Health and Gender Equity: “Civil society is getting caught in the middle of politics …[and] it really shows how, when donors take these principled positions, they can and do have unintended consequences for groups in countries who are desperate for the funding to provide life-saving health services.” Because the gag-rule encompasses all of U.S global health assistance, services beyond the realm of abortion, such as HIV funding, also suffer. The choice between Swedish and U.S aid is made more difficult by the relatively abundant U.S budget as compared to the Swedish budget. While the Dutch government has raised $450 million to support organizations who have lost U.S aid, the deficit left by a lack of U.S funding could measure up to $2.2 billion. Advocates such as Serra Sippel now call on Sweden to work with advocacy groups to capitalize upon exceptions in the gag rule, rather than simply denying aid.  Such exceptions allow abortion in cases of life endangerment, rape or incest, in addition to post-abortion care. Additionally, under this policy, NGOs are able to provide “passive referrals,” or information regarding where a woman can access safe, legal abortion services.

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