Correction: A previous version of this article stated, "Tillis had not scheduled a meeting location as of the day before the meetings." According to Sen. Tillis' press secretary Adam Webb, Tillis' office scheduled a meeting for March 19. The story has been updated to reflect the correction.
Students from UNC Chapel Hill and other North Carolina universities took to Capitol Hill March 16-19 to petition state senators to support the Global Health, Empowerment and Rights Act and do away with the Mexico City Policy.
The Mexico City Policy, also known as the “Global Gag Rule,” was enacted by President Donald Trump on his first day in office. It forbids the allocation of U.S. foreign aid to organizations that offer abortion services or information.
First implemented in 1984 by the Reagan administration, the policy was rescinded by the Bill Clinton administration, reinstated by the George W. Bush administration and struck down again by the Obama administration.
Trump’s reinstatement of the policy looks a bit different than in years past. In its original form, the Mexico City Policy forbade funds only to foreign family planning services that discussed or performed abortions. Trump’s version applies to the majority of U.S. foreign health assistance, not just family planning ones.
The day after Trump reinstated the policy, U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., introduced the HER Act, a bill to counteract and permanently end the Mexico City Policy.
The bill would remove eligibility restrictions on recipients of U.S. foreign assistance, allowing them to use non-U.S. aid to provide abortion services that are legal here in the U.S. and in the country of practice.
Since the reimplementation of the Mexico City Policy and the proposal of the HER Act, pro-choice groups like Population Connection have advocated for the latter policy.
Population Connection sponsored the March 16-19 conference for college students and organizers from Arizona, North Carolina and Ohio to learn about reproductive justice and the effects of the Global Gag Rule so that they might effectively work against it.
The conference ended with the students taking to Capitol Hill to petition their state senators in meetings arranged by Population Connection to support the HER Act and do away with the Mexico City Policy.
A group of about 48 North Carolina students — including students from UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC-Greensboro, N.C. A&T University, Duke University, East Carolina University, UNC-Wilmington and Guilford College — met with Republican U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr and Democratic U.S. Rep. David Price.
Tillis' office scheduled a meeting for March 19 at 12:30 p.m. at Tillis' Washington office. Andrew Nam, a legislative correspondent for Tillis, scheduled the meeting March 5 in an email with Lauren Salmiery, a field coordinator for Population Connection.
On the day of the meetings, Burr’s office rescheduled the time from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Population Connection and Fight4Her organizer Amanda Murray suspected these hiccups may have been intentional.
“They gave us the run around because they didn’t want to face the issue,” she said.
Both senators are pro-life, and the students found them to be a tough crowd in their efforts to convince them to end the global gag rule.
“It really felt hypocritical to hear them talk about a pro-life stance when so many lives are being lost due to this policy,” Murray said.
Kasie Omile, a senior at UNC-CH studying nursing, approached the position from a health care perspective. She said although Tillis' website says he supports comprehensive and patient-driven health care and eliminating obstacles to care, this is contradictory to his lack of support for the repeal of the global gag rule.
“Patients don’t have the right to choose," Omile said. "They don’t even have the right to hear their options fully."
Although their meetings with the senators weren’t as fruitful as they hoped, the students valued the chance to exercise their political rights and gain insight into the political scene.
“It helped me to understand that it didn’t seem that health care was something they wanted to make available for everyone,” Omile said. “People in their own countries, even if they’re able to perform abortions under those laws, funding is still being pulled because of beliefs held here.”
Murray and Omile said the meeting with Price went well.
Inspired by the experience, Murray hopes to start a Fight4Her organization at UNC.
“I think that any time a person can engage with their democracy and show up in large numbers, that sends a message to the rest of the country too that this is something worth fighting for and sends a message to people running that you don’t get elected unless you stand up for reproductive rights,” she said.
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