Planned Parenthood Global must be 'critical voice of dissent' to Trump, new director says

U.S. President Donald Trump holds up his executive order on the reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy. Photo by: REUTERS / Kevin Lamarque

NAIROBI — Planned Parenthood Global, the international arm of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, announced on Wednesday that Monica Kerrigan, an expert in family planning and sexual reproductive health, will become the organization’s new executive director at the end of October.

Kerrigan, who has over four decades of international experience, is currently vice president for technical leadership and innovation at Jhpiego, an international nonprofit health organization affiliated with Johns Hopkins University, where she works to bridge technical leadership teams with country family planning programs in 17 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.

In an interview with Devex, Kerrigan said this is a key time for the organization to be an outspoken voice in opposition of the Trump administration’s expansion of the “global gag rule,” known also as the Mexico City Policy.

Mozambique's teenage pregnancy challenge

One of the world's poorest countries had taken huge strides in getting its young people access to sex education and family planning services — until a U.S. policy sent it spiraling backward.

Under the Mexico City Policy, foreign NGOs receiving U.S. global health funding are forbidden from engaging in any abortion-related activities. This includes referring, and even mentioning abortion-related services. For organizations that refuse to comply with this policy, and lose funding, it impacts services beyond abortion including contraception and HIV services, as well as cervical cancer screenings.

AMODEFA, a sexual and reproductive health NGO in Mozambique, for example, estimates that half a million people lost access to previously U.S.-funded projects that were helping them as a result of the policy. This included HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria programs.

“We have daily assaults on global sexual reproductive health and rights. I think it's important for Planned Parenthood Global, as we look forward to the future, to really stand up to this administration, and to be the critical voice of dissent,” Kerrigan said.

This includes continuing to amplify the voices of those impacted by the funding cuts and providing an evidence base on the policy’s impact.

“More women are having unintended pregnancies and more women are [contracting] HIV because of the bad policies of this administration,” she said.

Planned Parenthood must also continue to support countries that are trying to domestically mobilize their own resources to fill these funding gaps, she said.

Kerrigan’s career in reproductive health began in 1979, when she was a 22-year old Peace Corps volunteer stationed in the village of Kendie, about 560 miles outside of Mali’s capital city.

“It’s where I saw firsthand the struggle of women and girls that were forced into early marriage, no access to contraceptives and frequent childbearing. Many of my friends died during childbirth, and also put their life in their hands with unsafe abortions,” she said. “That experience changed my life.

Latanya Mapp Frett previously held the position of executive director and was based in Nairobi, a move from New York City she said she made to “to bring our organization closer to the work that we do and the partners we support.” Mapp Frett left Planned Parenthood Global after she was appointed to lead the Global Fund for Women in June. Kerrigan will not move to Nairobi but will be based in Washington, D.C.

About the author

  • Sara Jerving

    Sara Jerving is Devex's East Africa Correspondent based in Nairobi. She is a reporter and producer, whose work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, Vice News, Bloomberg Businessweek, The Nation magazine, among others. Sara holds a master's degree in business and economic reporting from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism where she was a Lorana Sullivan fellow.