As Donald Trump faces his second impeachment trial this week, women in Poland are being called in increasing numbers to police stations – accused of accessing medical abortions online, in a country with one of Europe’s most restrictive abortion laws. These prosecutions, an ocean apart, are not unrelated. Until recently, the chief counsel of an ultra-conservative group that argued for further restricting Polish abortion laws was one of the former US president’s personal lawyers.
That group, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), is one of several Trump-linked US organisations that have spent millions of dollars around the world pushing ‘traditional family’ policies. Its chief counsel is Jay Sekulow, one of Trump’s lawyers during his first impeachment challenge. The group’s European office provided legal arguments in support of banning abortion in Poland in cases of severe foetal anomalies – and it has opposed marriage equality including in Italy.
The results of these campaigns have been severe for many women and LGBT people across the continent. “Terrible consequences” of Poland’s increased abortion restrictions will include “the broken hearts of mothers who are forced to continue such pregnancies and watch their children die”, one woman in Warsaw, told openDemocracy last year. She had ended her own pregnancy, shortly before the ban came in, after receiving a diagnosis of a usually fatal foetal anomaly.
Another woman, in Rome, meanwhile told us that during the first COVID-19 lockdown last year she was not legally allowed to see her son for weeks. She and her former partner had conceived their child via IVF in Spain six years earlier, but because they were a same-sex couple “I am not his parent under the law”, she explained. “How can I explain this to a six-year-old child? For him, I am his mother.”
In addition to the ACLJ’s European office, another US group has intervened in legal cases opposing same-sex marriage and civil unions. This is the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), whose connections to the Trump administration included the president’s appointment of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. She spoke at several of the group’s annual training courses for Christian right law students.
In the US, Barrett is a key example of how Trump’s legacy achieved an institutional expression that will outlast him – regardless of whether or not he’s impeached. Internationally, groups that had close ties to his administration, such as ADF, will also continue to threaten rights and equality, regardless of this trial’s outcome.
Last year, openDemocracy revealed that US Christian conservative groups, many of them linked to the Trump administration, had spent at least $280m around the world since 2008. This spending pre-dated Trump’s time in office – and it will outlast it. Their troops of lawyers, lobbyists, campaign strategists and political operatives are playing long games with global ambitions. Their threat to democracy is not over – and they may focus their efforts globally even more than before.
While they may now have to play defence in the US against the Biden administration, which has for example already repealed the anti-abortion ‘Global Gag Rule’, internationally they still have many well-positioned allies. In Latin America, ADF also provided legal arguments to conservatives in Paraguay, who successfully campaigned for a ban on mentions of ‘gender’ in schools.
In Europe, Serbia appears to be another hotspot for such activism – the World Congress of Families (WCF) network, founded by US and Russian ultra-conservatives, says it has just opened an office in Belgrade. In Africa, a key WCF partner, Family Watch International, has trained senior politicians and diplomats on how to oppose the introduction of comprehensive sexuality education.
Such Trump allies threaten rights globally – and his US impeachment trial won’t change that. Internationally, we need action from our own governments and institutions to defend and promote the universality of human rights – including the right to health, to form families, and access information – regardless of gender, sex, race, or other characteristics. The alternative looks nothing like justice.