February 2017 DailyNation; Barely four days after coming into office, US President Donald Trump appended his signature to an executive order that bars US federal funding for foreign NGOs that support abortion.
That signature on January 23 has far-reaching implications for Kenyan women and their families. The order also stymies the sharing of information about abortion as a family planning option.
With a stroke of the pen, Mr Trump cut off Sh300 million worth of grants — for two five-year projects — to Marie Stopes Kenya (MSK), which was meant to offer family planning to women in Nakuru, Baringo, Samburu, and Turkana.
MSK Country Director Dana Tilson said as a direct impact of the order, the organisation will not be able to serve over 120,000 women with family planning and “other linked services.”
As a result, Ms Tilson believes, this will have an opposite effect such as unplanned pregnancies and unsafe abortions, among other health risks.
The restrictions of the “Global Gag Rule”, also called the Mexico City Policy, have been either maintained or discarded, depending on who was in the White House.
To begin with, they were first put in place 33 years ago by Republican President Ronald Reagan.
They were eliminated by Democratic President Bill Clinton, and later reinstated by his successor, Republican George W. Bush.
Consequently, when Barack Obama, a Democrat, took office in 2009, they were overturned, until President Trump revived them this week.
They not only affect family planning groups but also all entities that provide US federal foreign health aid.
These include the US Agency for International Development (USAid), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the US President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR).
Coincidentally, the law only applies to organisations working in other countries and doesn’t touch those in the US.
Ms Tilson told the Nation by phone: “It is a terrible tragedy that Kenyan women are being let down by the Trump administration. Women need to stand up and speak against the abuse of their rights.”
MSK offers not only contraceptives (including information) but also cancer screening, pregnancy care and nutrition.
She added it was unfortunate that women’s health and safety have been politicised but was quick to add that Marie Stopes has opposed the decree and has never signed the agreement when it was enforced.
“Over the period he is in office and the policy is in place, we will not be receiving USAid money,” Ms Tilson clarified.
Another organisation, International Planned Parenthood Federation, which provides family planning services, is also counting its losses and has registered its displeasure with the executive decree.
Caroline Kwamboka, IPPF senior manager of external relations, told the Nation that no money the organisation receives from the US government is “spent on abortion.”
She said: “Yet, without funding, these organisations won’t be able to provide HIV prevention, care and treatment services, integrated maternal health care, counselling on potential risks of Zika infection, contraceptive services, and training to health care providers, among other key reproductive health interventions.”
As it stands, Ms Kwamboka says IPPF is at risk of losing up to $100 million for health programmes that provide comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services.
IPPF, Ms Kwamboka adds, will continue to work with other governments and donors to bridge the funding and service gaps the Global Gag Rule creates.
For the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), an organisation that uses the law to advance reproductive health rights, the decree will have an impact even on organisations that do not receive funding from the US government.
Evelyne Opondo, regional director for Africa at CRR, said the Kenyan government as a result of Trump’s decree, needs to increase its health budgetary allocations to counties and should not “bow to the whims of the US.”
“There will be an implication on all organisations working in the health sector, whether they get US funding or not. We complement each other, but this might see some organisations closed down or if they don’t, they will not have the capacity to offer comprehensive health services such as information on family planning, referrals, [and]counselling for victims of gender-based violence. We might also not be able to train health workers.”
She added the decree presented a dicey situation where “everyone loses” but said it was a wake-up call for African countries to take up funding for health projects.
Ms Opondo said CRR nonetheless will still be “operational in maintaining and ensuring reproductive health rights are protected.”
Abortion in Kenya’s Constitution is permitted only when the life of the mother is at risk and can be performed by a trained health professional.
As a result, this has been a contentious issue in the country and complicated by the Ministry of Health’s withdrawing of guidelines and standards on abortion, though it stipulates that post-abortion care should be provided as one measure to prevent maternal mortality.
- At a Glance:
The Global Gag Rule in a nutshell:
- Withholds US family planning funding and technical assistance from foreign NGOs such as reproductive health organisations, private hospitals, and clinics that perform or promote abortions.
- It forbids NGOs that receive US funding from advocating for liberalisation or decriminalisation of abortion in their countries.
- In countries where abortion is permitted, the policy prohibits health workers at NGOs that receive US funding from offering abortion as an option or referring women to an abortion provider.