January 21, 2021

US to Repeal Trump’s Anti-abortion Rule on Foreign Aid and Join Covax Vaccine Scheme

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President Joe Biden signs a series of executive orders in the Oval Office of the White House, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Biden is preparing to reverse a Trump administration policy that prohibits U.S. funding for nongovernmental groups that provide or refer patients for abortions — the first of several moves reproductive rights advocates are hoping to see from the Biden administration.

In prepared remarks released by the White House on Thursday, Dr. Anthony Fauci tells the World Health Organization’s executive board that Biden will soon revoke the Mexico City Policy “as part of his broader commitment to protect women’s health and advance gender equality at home and around the world.”

The policy, first instituted by the Reagan administration, has pingponged on and off between Republican and Democratic presidents ever since. Trump reinstituted and expanded the policy, which critics describe as a “gag rule,” within days of taking office. An analysis published in 2019 in the medical journal The Lancet found that the Mexico City Policy increased the abortion rate in at least some affected countries, likely because it also reduced access to contraception.

Trump later cut off funding through the federal Title X family planning program to domestic health care providers that perform or refer patients for abortion, prompting organizations including Planned Parenthood to withdraw from the program. Both Trump administration actions were lauded by anti-abortion rights groups, which object to public funding for organizations that are in any way involved in abortion or abortion referrals.

Asked about the issue by a reporter with the Catholic network EWTN at the Biden administration’s first White House briefing on Wednesday evening, press secretary Jen Psaki said she would have more information in the coming days, and noted that Biden is “a devout Catholic, and somebody who attends church regularly.”

Reproductive rights groups are asking Biden to reverse a long list of Trump administration policies related to abortion, contraception and reproductive health. They’re also pushing for a reversal of the Hyde Amendment, a long-standing prohibition on federal funding for most abortions. Biden had long supported the Hyde Amendment but reversed that position during his run for the 2020 Democratic nomination.

The Biden administration’s chief medical adviser also formally announced that the US was signing up to Covax, a programme that pools international funds to buy vaccines and equally distribute them around the world, as well as to the Access to Covid-19 Tools Accelerator (Act-Accelerator), a framework for collaboration on treatments and technology.

Trump has spurned Covax, but in its most recent Covid-relief package the US Congress reserved nearly $4bn (£2.9bn) for Gavi, the organisation that co-founded the programme, which was widely seen as intended to support the vaccine-sharing platform.

Its formal membership opens the door to more funding and direct donations of vaccines, and builds momentum for the programme and wider efforts to guarantee equal access to vaccines, treatments and technology to fight the pandemic.

Wealthy or upper-middle income countries have bought up more than 5bn vaccine doses so far, compared with about 680m in lower-middle income and poor countries. The imbalance suggests global vaccine supplies will remain insufficient until at least 2023 or 2024, according to a Duke University analysis.

Covax is intended to redress that inequality but has been undermined by countries striking their own side deals that push up prices and constrain supply.

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