Abortion In The Context Of The US Midterm Elections: Global Impact

Washington, DC — The United States is one of the biggest funders of reproductive health and family planning in multiple developing countries. It is also one of the biggest distributors of contraceptive services in the international market providing all but one: Abortion. The US congressional midterm elections taking place on 6 November could influence further proposed changes to these policies by the current US administration, potentially affecting the lives of millions of women worldwide, for better or worse.

2009 March For Life in Washington, DC

In the past, abortion was criminalized in many countries around the world including the US for variety of reasons, mainly to protect the health of mothers from unregulated medical institutions, and to protect fetal life. The World Health Organization, in 2012, established guidelines for safe abortion, serving as technical and policy guidance for health systems. According to this guidance, abortion is one of the safest medical procedures if done correctly.

Certain circumstances can enable a woman to seek an abortion on the basis of these six grounds: risk to life, rape or sexual assault, fetal anomaly, risk to physical and mental health, for socioeconomic reasons or on request by the pregnant woman in question.

In January 2017, The Mexico City Policy or the ‘global gag rule’ was reinstated as an executive order by President Trump. This policy restricts the use of US funds by any agency towards abortion services as a family planning method. The expanded policy also applies to all global health programs under the US Agency for International Development (USAID), which includes HIV/AIDS, maternal and child health, infectious diseases including malaria, tuberculosis, and neglected tropical diseases, global health security, and family planning and reproductive health.

This regulation restricts funding to various foreign non-governmental agencies for the use of reproductive health and family planning services. The gag rule is also being extended domestically as well with proposed changes to Title X (HR 217, Title X Abortion Provider Prohibition Act) to restrict federal funds to the implementation of abortion services as a method of family planning. Title X funding is the only federal grant program applicable to reproductive health and family planning services for low income and uninsured populations.

Heading into next week’s mid-term congressional elections, both the House and the Senate have a majority of Republicans, many of whom strongly oppose abortion. And while the international gag rule can be reinstated as an executive order, enforcing the domestic gag rule requires a more collective decision by the members of the House and the Senate, the fate of which lies in the upcoming midterm election.

If the House and the Senate remain “red” (Republican Party), it is possible that changes to Title X will pass leading to the restriction of federal funds towards abortion services. On the other hand, Democrats are strongly opposing this. Earlier this year, 45 Democrats from the Senate wrote to the head of Health and Human Services strongly condemning the bill.

Different state laws in the US determine access and coverage of abortion. In a 2018 report published by Guttmacher Institute on abortion policy laws in the US, 43 states in America prohibit abortion except in a circumstance where it is medically necessary to protect the mother’s life or if the woman is at a certain point in her pregnancy. Abortions are permissible at or below 20 weeks, 24 weeks or at viability depending on state laws. State funding of abortion is also restricted in Washington DC and 32 states except for cases of life endangerment. And 11 states restrict coverage of abortion under private insurance unless otherwise indicated.

Proposed changes by the current administration to Title X will not only impact the federal funds allocated to each state for the purpose of family planning in the future, but can potentially change individual state laws around access to abortion providers, counselling services, as well as private insurance coverage of abortion. This would affect many women from low income communities who are reliant on institutions such as Planned Parenthood for their family planning. It is also possible that if changes to Title X go into effect, overturning Roe v. Wade will be next on the agenda for the Republicans.


Image Credits: John Stephen Dwyer: Wikipedia.

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