WASHINGTON — Pro-life officials who keep an eye on abortion-related matters in international affairs are ecstatic with Donald Trump’s administration for its recent moves to block U.S. tax dollars from funding organizations that perform or provide information about abortion in foreign nations.
Critics claim the administration’s moves will hinder women’s access to critical care, especially in developing countries, where people often rely on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to provide health care. But pro-lifers say those claims are simply untrue.
“It’s like Planned Parenthood saying women are not going to get mammograms if their clinics are shut down,” said Susan Yoshihara, the senior vice president for research and director of the International Organizations Research Group at the Center for Family and Human Rights (C-Fam), a nonprofit research institute dedicated to defending life and family at international institutions.
Yoshihara also told the Register that the arguments made by organizations such as the United Nations Population Fund — that cutting off American funding to certain NGOs and entities will result in more abortions and restricted access to contraception — are inaccurate.
“The bottom line is that there is essentially a global market saturation in contraception,” Yoshihara said. “The funds should be diverted back to maternal and child health.”
On May 15, the Trump administration announced that it was expanding the scope of the Mexico City Policy, which was instituted in 1984 by President Ronald Reagan and holds that no U.S. government funding for family-planning services can be given to clinics and NGOs in foreign countries that perform abortions or discuss abortions as an option.
The Expanded Policy
Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser told the Register that Trump is continuing Reagan’s pro-life legacy by “modernizing” the Mexico City Policy.
“This policy provides relief to the pro-life people of nations around the world and protects American taxpayers from funding foreign non-governmental organizations that promote and perform abortion,” said Dannenfelser. “By ceasing funding for foreign abortion promoters, President Trump sends a strong message that we respect all human life, including vulnerable children abroad and their mothers.”
Under the expanded policy — “Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance” — the abortion restriction will also apply to funding for international health programs, such as those for HIV/AIDS, maternal and child health, malaria, global health security, and family planning and maternal health.
The expanded Mexico City Policy does not apply to global health assistance that the United States gives to national or local governments or public international organizations.
Also exempt from the policy are funds for humanitarian assistance, including the U.S. State Department’s migration and refugee-assistance activities, as well as the U.S. Agency for International Development disaster and humanitarian-relief activities, and the U.S. Department of Defense disaster and humanitarian relief.
The broadened policy is expected to affect around $8.8 billion in U.S. funding for international health programs.
Pro-life officials note that the funding is not being cut, but rather will be made available to organizations that agree to abide by the federal government’s terms on abortion-related activities.
“This is tremendous news and is long overdue. It is one of those things that all Catholics and other Christians, regardless of your politics, should be able to celebrate,” said Father Shenan Boquet, president of Human Life International, an organization that advocates for pro-life policies around the globe.
Father Boquet told the Register that the expanded policy sends a message that abortion is “the opposite of health and human development.” He also said resulting criticisms are revealing in two ways.
“It shows how many NGOs would rather walk away from federal grants than reject abortion,” Father Boquet said. “And it reveals how abortion has been woven into the fabric of the international development industry, corrupting many efforts that would otherwise be worthy and supportable.”
Referring to the Mexico City Policy as the “Global Gag Rule,” Planned Parenthood says the policy “seriously impedes countries’ efforts to improve women’s health and undermines civic participation.”
Mainstream secular media outlets, such as The New York Times, have decried the expanded policy, warning that it could make it harder to fight cancer, HIV, Zika and Ebola in some developing countries.
C-Fam’s Yoshihara, who praised the Trump administration for reinstating and expanding the Mexico City Policy, said people, including women, in developing countries will still have access to clinics that provide abortion-free health care.
“There are many alternative clinics that are saving lives,” Yoshihara said.
Father Boquet said the policy’s effects on the ground are disputed.
He questioned the data that abortion advocates use to support their claim that restoring the policy has the unintended effect of increasing abortion rates as women’s health providers are forced to close and cannot distribute contraception.
“That data upon which claims are based … is almost entirely based on estimates,” said Father Boquet, adding that “there is very little reliable abortion data” in poor countries with no health infrastructure and where abortion is illegal and thus rarely reported.
As a 2011 World Health Organization report notes, organizations such as the International Planned Parenthood Federation and Marie Stopes International have chosen to forgo U.S. federal funding at times when the Mexico City Policy is in effect. On Jan. 23, Trump reinstated the policy, which President Barack Obama had revoked shortly after taking office in January 2009.
“The president reinstated a long-standing policy that American taxpayers shouldn’t fund abortion overseas, and shouldn’t fund organizations that promote abortion overseas, and shouldn’t fund foreign organizations that undermine the abortion laws of other countries,” Clarke Forsythe, senior counsel for Americans United for Life, told the Register.
Forsythe also said that the Trump administration’s decision to reinstate the policy honors the principle that American taxpayers should have no role in directly paying for abortion services.
“If Americans want to fund abortion overseas, there are plenty of organizations that they can voluntarily support, but the American taxpayer should not be forced to do so in any way,” Forsythe said.
UNFPA Funding Halted
In addition to reinstating and expanding the Mexico City Policy, the Trump administration sent another signal that it is prioritizing pro-life international policy when it decided to withhold $32.5 million in government funding that had been earmarked this fiscal year for the U.N. Population Fund, which is the organization’s lead agency on family planning and maternal health.
The administration withheld the funding on grounds that the UNFPA supports the Chinese government’s program of forced abortions and sterilizations. The U.N. agency disputes that claim and says that its maternal health and family-planning programs save thousands of lives around the globe.
But Yoshihara said the UNFPA falsely claims that 225 million women want but cannot get contraception. That claim, she said, is even contradicted by the Guttmacher Institute, an organization that supports legal abortion, which says lack of access is rare, except for West and Middle Africa.
“We should absolutely be withholding the funds. In fact, I’d argue that we should go further and shut it down,” said Yoshihara, who argues that the UNFPA has “outlived its usefulness.”
Overall, pro-life leaders agree that President Trump seems committed to fulfilling the pro-life pledges he made last year on the campaign trail.
Said Forsythe, “This administration has shown in a number of ways that it is serious about pro-life policies, domestically and internationally.”
Brian Fraga writes from
Fall River, Massachusetts.