Other Countries Aim To Fill Aid Shortfall Caused By U.S. Abortion Rule

Feb 9, 2017

After President Trump blocked U.S. aid money from supporting any group that provides or "promotes" abortion in other countries, The Netherlands announced it would launch a fundraising initiative to support any affected organizations.

Now, several other countries — including Sweden, Finland, Belgium and Canada — have signaled their participation.

The "She Decides" fundraiser is the latest development in an international aid dispute that — as NPR's Nurith Aizenman explained — has been playing out for decades. It centers on the "Mexico City policy," which blocks U.S. aid from being sent to any international group that provides or "promotes" abortion. That can include providing information about abortion.

Since 1973, the U.S. hasn't allowed international aid money to directly fund abortions. The only question has been if groups can receive funds for other initiatives. And that has depended on who is in office — Republican presidents enforced the Mexico City policy, while Democratic presidents didn't.

When Trump entered office one of his first actions was to bring back the policy. As Nurith wrote last month, he also appeared to expand it: Previous versions of the policy only stopped family planning aid from being distributed to affected charities, while Trump's memorandum seems to apply to all global health funding.

Nurith wrote that it's far from clear exactly how much money is potentially affected. The U.S. spends more than $600 million specifically on reproductive health, but spends much more — billions of dollars — on global health overall.

"It remains to be seen how much of that goes to groups that currently provide or promote abortion as defined by the policy — and that would opt to give up U.S. aid dollars rather than falling in line," Nurith wrote.

Shortly after Trump reimposed the policy, The Netherlands launched the "She Decides Global Fundraising Initiative," soliciting donations for reproductive health care in developing countries.

It was explicitly designed to counterbalance the effect of the U.S. policy change. Funds raised by the initiative "will be made available to organizations affected by the Mexico City Policy," according to a website for the effort.

In addition to inviting private donations, the Netherlands also pledged more than $10 million and said it would be working with other governments to boost the available funds.

Since then, Denmark and Belgium have also pledged aid, bringing the total to more than $30 million, Deutsche Welle reports.

And on Thursday, Sweden joined those three countries to announce an international conference related to the initiative, scheduled for March 2.

"We will mobilize political and financial support and show that there is a counterweight to the worrying developments we are seeing in the U.S. and in other parts of the world," Swedish deputy prime minister Isabella Lövin said in a statement. (You may remember Lövin from a tweet showing her signing legislation while surrounded by women, apparently as a rebuke to the image of Trump signing the Mexico City policy memorandum while surrounded by men.)

Canada is also participating in the launch, officials confirm to NPR. Reuters reports that Finland, Luxembourg and Cape Verde have also signed on to the initiative.

Ashley McGuire, a senior fellow with The Catholic Association, tells NPR that other countries working to counteract the impact of the policy doesn't change the key fact, for anti-abortion groups, of American funds being withdrawn.

"Other countries are free to do what they want," she says. "The principle of the matter is that the United States is not endorsing abortion."

The ability of international aid groups to raise funds from other sources, in general, has been mentioned by anti-abortion groups as a point in favor of the Mexico City policy, as Nurith reported last year. Nonprofit groups, meanwhile, say it's "enormously disruptive" to have a funding source cut off suddenly, even if other funds are later available.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.