Trump’s ‘global gag rule’ won’t directly affect abortion services in SA

25 January 2017 - 18:42 By Katharine Child

The provision of abortion services in South Africa will not directly be impacted by US President Donald Trump signing the "global gag rule" which stops US-funded NGOs globally even mentioning the word 'abortion'.

This week Trump signed the law‚ known as the Mexico City Policy‚ back into place after it had been revoked by his predecessor‚ Barack Obama.

The law stops the funding of abortion services or referral to abortion clinics by any US government-funded NGOs or clinics across the world.

Women's rights globally are affected by this law‚ say think tanks like the American Centre for Progress. But US Embassy spokesman Cynthia Harvey said: "No US agency is currently funding abortion abroad including in South Africa."

This means the law will not directly stop provision of abortion in South Africa at the few state facilities that offer it.

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However‚ Provincial Specialist of Obstetrics and Gynecology in the Mpumalanga Department of Health‚ Eddie Mhlanga‚ said that the rule would stop any NGOs that offer HIV services and prevention options from giving women who come for ARVs information about termination of pregnancy even if they had an unwanted pregnancy.

He said the state had been "captured by Americans" and the funding had allowed Americans a huge say over health policy.

Private termination of pregnancy provider Marie Stopes confirmed the services it offers in 14 centres in seven cities would continue as it receives no US funding for its South African operations.

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South Africa will receive about $250 million dollars from the US government towards TB and HIV prevention and treatment programmes this year. Some of this money is spent on clinics helping young women with HIV or even asking for HIV tests.

Doctors at US-funded HIV clinics would not be able to promote termination of pregnancy as a family planning option with any patient.

Anova Health Institute‚ an NGO that receives US funding‚ said it does not promote abortion as a method of family planning at its clinics or in its programmes.

"But where necessary‚ Anova staff would respond to a question about where a safe‚ legal abortion may be obtained when a woman who is already pregnant clearly states that she has already decided to have a legal abortion in South Africa. This remains in line with the ‘Mexico City Policy’ requirements of the US funders‚" spokesperson Tanja Bencun-Roberts explained.

Abortion advocate Marion Stevens‚ co-ordinator for Women in Sexual and Reproductive Rights and Health‚ said Trump's law was already enforced locally as the Department of Health did not promote the legal right to termination of pregnancy for fear of losing US funds. This fear of losing money arose‚ she said‚ because the global gag order was in place during the Bush administration when South Africa started receiving US funding for its HIV programmes.

She said the government has long been "colonialised" by America and the department of health will not even mention abortion to HIV positive pregnant women.

Mom Connect‚ a messaging service‚ in part funded by the US government‚ has reached a million pregnant women locally with antenatal advice but doesn’t mention abortion. However‚ Stevens said the messages on abortion written for the service were never signed off by the Department of Health.

Harvey said: "During this period of transition‚ the US Mission in South Africa has not yet received guidance from the new administration with respect to these new policies‚ and any discussion of implications of such policies at this stage would be premature.'

-TMG Digital/The Times