European Union Promises to Fill International Abortion Funding 'Gap'
BRUSSELS — The ink was barely dry on President George W. Bush's executive order reinstating the “Mexico City policy” that bans federal funding of abortion and population control programs in foreign countries when the European Union leaped to fill the breach.
With the British and Dutch governments acting as cheerleaders, European Commissioner for Development Poul Neilson pledged last month that Europeans would plug the funding gap caused by the president's first policy decision.
Said Neilson, “If it is necessary for others to fill the decency gap in view of recent decisions, we will do it.”
Neilson is one of 20 commissioners who form the European Commission — a hybrid body that is the civil service of the 16-nation European Union, but that also has the power to initiate policy and propose legislation.
Dutch Minister for Development Cooperation Eveline Herfkens urged “quick and strong” European action in a personal letter to Neilson, who she described as a “like-minded friend.”
Herfkens was not available for an interview when contacted by the Register, but her officials referred to a series of her answers to parliamentary questions.
She told the Dutch Parliament, “President Bush's measure affects intergovernmental agencies with headquarters outside the U.S.A. Agencies in Europe and developing countries will be hit hardest.”
Kristian Schmidt, one of six advisers who form Neilson's “cabinet,” told the Register, “It is not clear what effect the U. S. decision is going to have but the commissioner has promised to fill any gap which arises.”
He said the likely recipient would be the United Nations Population Fund, also known as UNFPA, as well as certain non-governmental organizations that he would not specify.
Pro-life activists frequently accuse UNFPA of supporting abortion, a charge that the UN agency denies. Asked if the EU had committed to give UNFPA money to replace funds that will be shut off due to Bush's decision, UNFPA spokesman Abubakar Dungus told the Register, “The Bush Administration decision did not affect the UNFPA, and we are not aware of such a development.”
Asked why a senior EU official would have made his comment about providing abortion-related funding to UNFPA, Dungus replied, “I think he might have made a mistake.”
European leaders contend that the U.S. reinstatement of the Mexico City policy is a violation of international agreements.
Herfkens told the Dutch Parliament, “The subsidizing of international organizations that support abortion abroad is not just a U.S. domestic affair … this specific case is about implementing the decisions of the Cairo conference on reproductive health care.”
Added Schmidt, “The U.S. is not supporting the kind of work that has been endorsed by the U.N. Conference in Cairo in 1994 and [its five-year follow-up conference] in New York in 1999. There was something close to universal consensus, and the U.S. was part of it.”
Schmidt also claimed the Holy See delegation was the only dissenting voice against this pro-abortion “consensus.”
Peter Smith, senior U.N. lobbyist for International Right to Life, said that Schmidt's assertion of international consensus in favor of abortion was “a lie.”
Smith explained that dozens of countries in the developing world have entered formal “reservations” against abortion-related provisions contained in the Cairo Conference's documents, and in other recent U.N. documents. “If you have 40 or 50 countries putting in reservations, while others are threatened or coerced into keeping silence [about their opposition to abortion], that is not consensus, “ he said.
Msgr. Anthony Frontiero, attaché at the Holy See's Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations in New York, agreed that, “We are not a lone voice at the U.N. There are Muslim and other states which are also opposed to that kind of policy.”
To the developing world the EU's decision looks suspiciously like an update of Europe's colonial past.
“It is very inhuman,” said Michael Ochieng, 23, a Kenyan who attended a recent World Youth Alliance gathering of pro-family young people in New York.
“For World AIDS day there was a big exhibition in Nairobi in which the government had asked all organizations to bring along information. The EU stand was giving away boxes and boxes of condoms, which were distributed like free food. This is just a new form of colonialism.”
Ochieng said that UN- and EU-sponsored “reproductive health” programs in his country work to change the lifestyle of youth, increasing their risk of AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases and pushing them toward abortion.
Abortion is illegal in Kenya, Ochieng noted, but he said it is offered at “mother and child” healthcare clinics funded by western countries.
“The government turns a blind eye to what western health officials are doing,” he said. “This puts pressure on the few good doctors, who now get labeled as bad doctors who don't care. And the same is said about the Catholic Church.”
EU official Schmidt denied that the European Union is undermining any countries' local policies regarding abortion, claiming that the majority of governments and their people in developing countries are in favor of “safe abortion.”
Responded International Right to Life's Smith, “That's the typical cry of the culture of death.
“I have been attending UN conferences since Cairo in 1994, and the Third World delegates do not want the legalization of abortion and they are not wanting the sexual promiscuity of the West. However the rich countries put certain governments under pressure,” Smith said.
More Important Needs
Critics of population control policies also point out that such aid is given at the expense of development projects.
Said Ochieng, “We had money given to build a condom factory while our water is unsafe to drink.”
While the Vatican has not commented officially on the EU decision, Msgr. Frontiero said the Holy See was pleased by the reinstatement of the Mexico City policy. “We applaud President Bush's decision,” he said. “We are opposed to the funding of abortion and so-called emergency contraception, when there are funds that are needed for clean water, immunization and good maternal health care.”
Paul Burnell writes from Manchester, England.
- March 11-17,2001