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Abortion Will Never Stop, Even If It's Banned

by Keiko Zoll

President Donald Trump had quite the busy Monday morning, as a slew of Executive Orders came one after another from his desk in the Oval Office. The first order of the day involved withdrawing the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. And right after? Coming after women's healthcare in the form of reinstating the "Global Gag Rule," a controversial anti-abortion policy from the 1980s that puts women's lives at risk around the world. "Let's not mince words," Carmen Rios wrote for Ms. Magazine on Monday. "The Global Gag Rule kills women." And that's why abortion will never stop, even if it's banned.

Even if laws banning abortion outright could be put on the books both in the United States and abroad, as filmmaker Diana Whitten told The Guardian in 2014: "Laws never prevent abortion. They never have, and they never will. All they prevent is safe abortion." And that's why reinstating the Global Gag Rule is deadly for women around the word: The abortions aren't going to stop, but more women are going to die because they couldn't access them legally or safely. Americans don't even have to look back that far into their own history to see high abortion mortality rates plummeted after 1973, all thanks to Roe v. Wade.

According to NARAL Pro-Choice America and based on several studies, the number of women having illegal abortions prior to Roe v. Wade was as many as 1.2 million women — per year. And every year, 5,000 of those illegal abortions resulted in death. Once abortion was legalized in the United States, the mortality rate associated with legal abortions dropped from 4.1 to 0.6 per 100,000 abortions from 1973 to 1997. When abortions were made legal in the United States, fewer women died. These are not "alternative facts" — this is just empirical data.

But for many women around the world who don't have the luxury and privilege of legal abortions in their own country, the numbers are far more grim. According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, 20 million women seek unsafe abortions globally each year; of those women, 70,000 die from complications resulting from unsafe abortions. And it's happening disproportionately among women in some of the poorest nations in the world. A 2003 report from the Center for Reproductive Rights identified unsafe abortion is the second leading cause of death for women of reproductive age in Ethiopia and that 40 percent of Kenya's maternal mortality rate is due to deaths from unsafe abortions.

This is what makes Trump's reinstatement of the Global Gag Rule so dangerous for women: The Global Gag Rule prevents the United States from funding any international organization that even mentions abortion as an option for dealing with unplanned or unwanted pregnancies. Many of the international NGOs that the Global Gag Rule target provide general reproductive health and contraceptive services — they do not provide abortions. But the mere mention of abortion by these organizations is going to cost them U.S. aid dollars, particularly in developing countries like Kenya and Ethiopia, where women are literally dying from having unsafe abortions.

Let's face it: If a woman does not want to carry a pregnancy — due to circumstances of domestic violence, rape, incest, or social stigma — or can't carry a pregnancy — because of poverty or even life-threatening medical conditions — she will find a way to have that abortion. It's just that now she's more likely to die from it.

You can also look at data to support this claim, as this isn't the first time the Global Gag Rule has been reinstated. But the Global Gag Rule doesn't actually do anything to stop abortions from happening: A 2011 study from the World Health Organization showed that abortion rates jumped after the Global Gag Rule was reinstated in 2001 by President George W. Bush. All the Global Gag Rule actually does is cripple international organizations trying to save women's lives. Reproductive choice isn't just an American right: It's a human right.

And for someone who proudly proclaimed "America First" from the inauguration stage, Trump seemed awfully concerned about what women outside of this country were doing with their bodies when he reinstated the Global Gag Rule. Even though Trump backtracked on saying women who have abortions should be punished, the Global Gag Rule does exactly that, by punishing women for the rights to their own bodies with the most barbaric punishment imaginable — their very lives.