May 04, 2020

Senators Van Hollen, Murray, Shaheen, Colleagues Call to Overturn Ideological Trump Administration Policies that Undermine Global Health and COVID-19 Response

Today, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) joined Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and 18 of their Democratic Senate colleagues in sending a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urging the Department of State and the Trump Administration to take immediate action to exempt emergency global health funding appropriated by Congress for the COVID-19 response from the dangerous and inefficient global gag rule and to provide a humanitarian exemption to allow the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to compete for emergency supplemental funding. A companion letter in the U.S. House was led by Congresswoman Jackie Speier (CA-14), Co-Chair of the Democratic Women’s Caucus, Pro-Choice Caucus Co-Chairs Reps. Barbara Lee (CA-13) and Diana DeGette (CO-1), Appropriations Committee Chair Nita Lowey (NY-17) and Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Eliot Engel (NY-16) and by 109 of their U.S. House of Representative colleagues.  

“We write with extreme concern about the effect of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) on access to and the availability of sexual and reproductive health globally. The United States should be a leader in addressing this pandemic, rather than lagging behind and allowing ideological objections to drive decision-making and contribute to poor access to health care," wrote the Senators. “Ideological actions taken by the Trump-Pence Administration, like reinstating and expanding the Global Gag Rule, otherwise known as the Mexico City Policy or the Protecting Life In Global Health Assistance Policy, and defunding the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), undermine global access to sexual and reproductive health care, which needlessly endangers health care workers and their patients worldwide. We urge you to reconsider policies that prevent the United States from partnering fully with entities best positioned to deliver lifesaving care and supplies amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Ideology is no excuse for hampering the international response to COVID-19, jeopardizing hard-won progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS, or failing to act as access to contraceptive care decreases and gender-based violence increases.”

In their letter, the Senators call upon the Trump Administration to, at a minimum:

  • exempt emergency global health funding from Global Gag Rule restrictions,
  • provide a humanitarian exemption to the Kemp-Kasten determination,
  • and halt work on a Fiscal Year 2020 Kemp-Kasten determination and allow appropriate funding go to UNFPA. 

The Senate letter was also signed by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chris Coons (D-DE), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Angus King (I-ME), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Tina Smith (D-MN), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Ed Markey (D-MA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV).

The House letter pressed the Trump Administration to take similar steps, and discussed the mounting evidence that the Administration’s ideological stance is hurting global health efforts. 

“Since January 2017, the administration’s expanded global gag rule has disrupted the delivery of health care services supported by U.S. global health assistance, and negatively impacted people who already face systemic barriers to care. A recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) highlighted that the global gag rule has resulted in the denial of more than 50 global health awards, spanning HIV/AIDS, family planning and reproductive health, maternal and child health, tuberculosis, and even nutrition programs… We know from the recent epidemics of Ebola and Zika that global health crises expose fragile health systems and magnify existing inequalities, compounding the negative impact of a policy like the global gag rule. We must ensure emergency funds can flow to the health care providers and community-based organizations that are best qualified and equipped to respond to this crisis and continue to provide essential, life-saving services even amid a pandemic,” wrote the Members. “These policies have jeopardized global health assistance and access to health care for communities around the world for too long. In the face of an unprecedented global pandemic, we must do everything we can to expand health care access and collaborate with all effective partners to prevent, respond to, and mitigate COVID-19 while protecting access to essential care.”

The full text of the Senate letter is available HERE and the House letter is available HERE.