NEW YORK — When it comes to women’s rights Rabbi Jill Jacobs doesn’t mince words. “People are going to die because of this,” said Jacobs. What she’s referring to is President Donald Trump’s executive order this week blocking foreign aid or federal funding to any nongovernmental organizations that perform or “actively promote abortion as a method of family planning in other nations.”
“Women are not going to get the health care they need. Women are going to die in childbirth. If you believe the loss of a human being is devastating, then you should be bothered by this,” said Jacobs, executive director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights.
Women’s rights groups in developing countries, where funds and facilities are already limited, find the order particularly troublesome. Federal tax dollars are already prohibited from directly funding abortions in the US and abroad.
And here in the US, Jewish groups such as T’ruah and the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York oppose the order for both health and religious reasons.
‘If you believe the loss of a human being is devastating, then you should be bothered by this’
“The Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York supports the rights of women everywhere to have access to safe and effective family planning as well as full agency over choices related to their health and well-being. Limiting the options for women to receive guidance and services is not aligned with our mission,” said executive director Jamie Allen Black.
Although Judaism believes an unborn fetus should be protected, it considers the life and health of the mother as paramount. The religion, and the Reform and Conservative movements in particular, favor reproductive rights and a woman’s right to choose. It follows that medically accurate sexual education and family planning services are considered a necessity.
“This is one example of imposing a form of Christianity on us and across parts of the world. It is not the interpretation of Judaism and many liberal and moderate forms of Christianity. Now one religion is being privileged over all other religions,” Jacobs said.
Calling it a global gag order, critics say organizations working around the world won’t be able to offer women complete information about family planning, thus endangering women’s lives and subsequently any children they already have.
That a Republican president signed an executive order to this effect isn’t new. The order has been rescinded and reinstated since 1984 when Republican president Ronald Reagan stopped funding for international groups which perform or provide information on abortions.
The Clinton administration repealed the order in 1993. It was reinstated during the Bush administration and once again rescinded when Barack Obama took office in 2009.
What has opponents especially concerned this time is that Trump’s order expands restrictions beyond those of previous Republican administrations. The wording suggests the rule will apply to any and all of the US government’s global health assistance, not solely State Department funding of family planning programs.
In short, any organization working on AIDS, malaria, or maternal and child health will have to ensure none of their programs even mentions abortion referral.
‘This will impact the world’s most vulnerable people. Their health care could evaporate’
“This will impact the world’s most vulnerable people. Their health care could evaporate. And it’s not just family planning that will be affected. The NGOs that do the honest work of fighting disease like AIDS and malaria will be effected,” said Barbara Weinstein, associate director for the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.
In the past there were exceptions to the global gag rule. For example, PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which was launched by president George W. Bush, was exempt from the rule as it was widely acknowledged there could be no prevention and treatment without being able to discuss abortion services.
Robert Bank, American Jewish World Services’ president and CEO, knows first hand the impact Trump’s executive order will have on women and girls around the world. Founded in 1986 the AJWS has a presence in 19 countries, including El Salvador, Kenya, Nicaragua and Sri Lanka.
“We are in daily conversation with our people in the field. They are shocked and deeply concerned,” Bank said. “We will always continue to do our work to save millions and millions of lives. To give women and girls what they need to make sure their choices are respected and their options are presented in medical settings.”
‘It is about the subjugation of women but it also impacts families, communities and nations’
Bank also said it’s important to understand this is not about being anti-abortion or pro-choice.
“The global gag is literally silencing people. If you do not allow them [health care workers] to speak you are also denying information on the transmission of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and other infectious diseases. It is about the subjugation of women but it also impacts families, communities and nations.”
Moreover, many groups read this order as a signal that Trump – who in 1999, on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” told Tim Russert that he is “pro-choice in every respect” – now intends to severely curtail women’s reproductive rights in the US.