Del-Em: Presidential Memorandum Regarding the Mexico City Policy
Published on Disegno Magazine, issue 14.
Presidential Memorandum Regarding the Mexico City Policy
Text and words by A Parede (Luiza Prado de O. Martins and Pedro J. S. Vieira de Oliveira)
In his first week as President, Donald J. Trump reinstated and expanded the Mexico City Policy, a Reagan-era global gag rule that impacts organisations offering reproductive healthcare around the world. The policy prevents these organisations from receiving funding from the federal government if they perform – or even discuss – abortion procedures; the rule influences the provision of abortion and birth control services. During the elections Trump stated to journalist Chris Matthews that he was “pro-life”, and that, although a woman should be punished for getting an abortion, a man need not be subject to the same standards.
Though many in the white liberal left were shocked by the election results, these were not a surprise for non-white US Americans, or for those who have long lived under the shadow of colonialism and US imperialism. Echoing President Theodore Roosevelt, who equated birth control amongst white people with “race suicide”, Trump’s policies represent the pinnacle of centuries of infrastructural inequality. The negation of reproductive rights does not affect all equally; denying access to adequate reproductive healthcare is just one of a long list of violences enacted by the modern/colonial system on people of colour around the world. Even though Trump’s policies will affect white and non-white women alike, the greatest impact will, once again, be felt by women of colour. Analysed in parallel to the global gag rule, Trump’s approach to reproductive rights reveals itself as both misogynistic and racist.
Access to reproductive healthcare – or lack thereof – has historically been deployed as a tool for domination. During the Cold War, the control of fertility in Latin America was considered an important measure to secure the United States’ political influence in the region, as discussed by writer Eduardo Galeano in Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent. Angela Y. Davis, feminist activist and former Black Panther Party member, points out in her book Women, Race, & Class that access to birth control has been deployed as part of a set of eugenic policies geared towards the erasure of African- Latin- and Native American populations in the United States. Similar strategies have been set into motion as a way to export cheap labor from colony to metropole, as documented in Elizabeth Aranda’s Emotional Bridges to Puerto Rico. Hence the conditions that enable the enactment of these policies were not established by the Trump’s campaign’s use of speculation and fiction – which could be compared to similar design practices – but rather by the more insidious and well-established designed systems of voter suppression, police brutality, structural racism, settler colonialism, and the prison-industrial complex.
Alas, design thrives on ingraining fictions in the fabric of normalcy. Working within a field that tends to eschew political accountability under the assumption of a “neutral”, “rational” aesthetic and a “functional” ethos, designers enable and sustain the material embodiments of patriarchal, white supremacist, hetero/cis-normative ideals that negate the humanity of marginalised populations. From urban planning to social policy-making, design normalises fictions that serve a specific portion of humanity in detriment of others. This lack of self-awareness amongst design practitioners becomes particularly evident when we analyse how Trump’s policies are being normalised within the design community. When design projects and competitions are presented as "hot takes" on "controversial issues", they obscure design's role in producing death for those who exist outside of white settler patriarchy, be it through border walls or blocking reproductive rights. At this point, it becomes fundamental to inquire what design does that has actually sustained this reality from well before the start of the Trump era, and which it will continue to do so, unless we actively work on a radical decolonisation of the field.