WASHINGTON — The U.S. bishops have praised signs of progress against “abortion ideology,” in response to a State Department report on new limits to U.S. funding for groups involved in abortion.
“Abortion undermines basic human rights, certainly for the child, and it also can wound the mother emotionally and physically,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York said Feb. 8. “U.S. tax dollars have no business going to organizations that are unwilling to pursue health outcomes for every person and instead insist on promoting and imposing their abortion ideology on women and children.”
Cardinal Dolan, speaking in his role as chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, said, “I again applaud this administration for restoring our foreign assistance to its rightful goals of promoting health and human rights.”
The Feb. 6 report from the U.S. State Department’s Office of U.S. Foreign Assistance Resources is a six-month review of the implementation of the Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance policy, an expanded version of the Mexico City Policy. The original policy, first instituted under President Ronald Reagan in 1984, directs U.S. overseas family planning funding away from organizations that perform or support abortions overseas.
The report is early evidence that the “vast majority” of NGOs are “willing and able to comply with this policy and that compliance does not appear to undermine delivery of appropriate health services,” said the cardinal.
President Donald Trump reinstated the Mexico City Policy on Jan. 23, 2017, then ordered Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to extend the policy to other forms of monetary aid, like global health assistance, provided by all U.S. departments or agencies.
The new report, covering the period through the end of fiscal year 2017, said that almost all “prime partners” who have had the chance to accept the policy have accepted it. Only four of 733 partners declined funding under the new policy.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List and co-chair of the 2016 Trump campaign’s pro-life coalition, welcomed the report.
“The overwhelming 99.5% compliance rate shows that the dire prognostications of abortion advocates have not come true,” she said. “The Trump administration’s pro-life policy has not reduced foreign assistance by a dime, but instead ensures that U.S. international aid partners act consistently to save lives, rather than promoting and performing abortion.”
Two major abortion providers, Marie Stopes International and International Planned Parenthood Federation, are among the partners that have declined funding linked to the new policy.
Previously, Marie Stopes received about $80 million per year in U.S. funds, about 17% of its donations. The organization has secured short-term replacement funds for most of that sum, but many programs may face losses in mid-2018, National Public Radio reports. It may shut down outreach teams for sexual and reproductive services for impoverished women in Madagascar, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
In January 2017, before the policy’s expansion, a spokesperson for International Planned Parenthood Federation said the organization could lose $100 million in annual funding for its non-abortion services.
“Only a tiny minority of extreme pro-abortion groups have stubbornly refused to put the wellbeing of all women ahead of their agenda,” Dannenfelser continued. “The funds they forfeited have gone to worthy providers who respect the life, dignity, and values of women and families worldwide, as well as the will of American taxpayers.”
At the same time, international funders are working to replace the prior U.S. funding, such as the She Decides NGO launched by the Dutch government. About $450 million has been raised from country donors, especially European governments, and private donors such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In July, Melinda Gates announced the foundation would boost family planning funding by 60%, another $375 million over the next four years, the U.K. newspaper The Guardian reports.
Many of the grantees in the State Department report are pass-through groups and it is unclear how many of their partners will comply with the new policy.
There are still assistance agreements made prior to the policy change that have not yet come under the new standard, the State Department report said.
The policy affected grants made through the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Defense. The agencies began implementing the policy in May 2017.
One Defense Department partner, a U.S. NGO, accepted the new policy requirements in all countries in which it is active but one.
As of Sept. 30, no HHS partners had declined to accept the policy. USAID reported that three centrally funded partners and 12 sub-awardee implementing partners refused to agree to the terms of the policy. The development agency is working to transition these organizations to other partners “while minimizing disruption of services.”
U.S. departments and agencies are including the policy provision in grants and agreements and are conducting trainings to ensure the policy is applied, the report said, adding that a standard contract clause is in development.
The report said there is a need to clarify that the provision must be included in U.S. department or agency awards to state or local government agencies, including state universities, “in the same manner as they include it in awards to U.S. NGOs.”
A further review is planned by Dec. 15, 2018.