Abortion activists to Ivanka: there will be no empowerment without us

By Rebecca Oas, Ph.D. | March 5, 2019

Ivanka Trump has made women’s economic empowerment one of her signature issues, and recently announced a global initiative to improve women’s lives around the world, with an initial U.S. investment of $50 million for a fund to be operated through USAID. While the announcement has yet to be followed by detailed information, it generated a flurry of editorials warning that its success would be severely undercut by one of Donald Trump’s first policy decisions as president: the reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy. It seems clear that advocates for an international abortion rights hope to persuade Ivanka to persuade her father to rescind the policy, in the name of giving her own project a greater chance of success.

The Mexico City Policy, now expanded and renamed “Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance” (PLGHA), restricts U.S. funding to foreign groups that provide or promote abortion. Referred to by its opponents as the “global gag rule,” PLGHA has been a thorn in the side of the international abortion lobby during Republican presidencies since Ronald Reagan. While they are quick to decry it as ineffective at reducing the number of abortions—the data there are disputable—its critics grudgingly admit that it has had a chilling effect on abortion advocacy and cut funding to international abortion giants such as Marie Stopes International and the International Planned Parenthood Federation.

So how does PLGHA adversely affect women’s economic empowerment? A recent statement from the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) speaks in largely positive language about the White House’s plan, while expressing concern that it does not directly address women’s health. To be clear: the statement only refers to “health” in the most generic terms, and does not mention abortion or contraception specifically. Also, it should be noted that while the newly-announced White House initiative doesn’t focus on health, the U.S. certainly has other programming focused on health, and women’s health in particular. One might well ask the question: can targeted programming exist anymore, or must anything we do be about everything?

But when ICRW spokesperson Teresa Casale spoke with Vox reporter Nicole Fallert, her quoted remarks essentially reduce “health” to “abortion and contraception.” The underlying argument is that you can’t have empowerment without health, and you can’t have health without abortion.

Neither the new Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative (WGDP) nor PLGHA reduce funding for global women’s health. What PLGHA does is draw a line stipulating which groups are eligible to receive that funding and which are not. According to abortion proponents, the funding is going to the wrong groups—those that do not promote or provide abortions. And they are frustrated that the WGDP does not attempt to change that.

PLGHA, and the Mexico City Policies that preceded it, are not the sum total of the international pro-life movement, and more can be done to identify and block sources of U.S. funding to pro-abortion groups around the world. Limiting U.S. complicity in abortion overseas is not sufficient to end the scourge, but it is a necessary first step, and sends a powerful moral message.

As for WGDP, its future impact remains to be seen, and much of its specificity has yet to be revealed. But while its success or failure will depend on many factors, it has the potential to send another important message both at home and abroad: that women’s economic empowerment is not won at the expense of innocent human lives.