UK urged to fund abortion groups in response to Donald Trump's global aid ban

Government must send US President the message that 'women's lives are not a political football', says Human Rights Watch

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The UK is facing calls to help plug a funding gap for overseas health providers after Donald Trump banned US government money going to any foreign aid organisations that discuss abortions.

Human Rights Watch has urged the UK send a message to the Trump administration that “women’s lives are not a political football”, by stepping up its commitment to health centres abroad.

Mr Trump signed an order restoring and expanding the Mexico City policy, known as the “Global Gag Rule” on his first day in the White House.

Trump's new gag rule puts women's lives at risk

The policy stipulates that funding cannot go to any foreign aid group that mentions the option of abortion, prompting criticism that the Trump administration is conducting “censorship” of medical options in some of the world’s most deprived countries.

USAID is already prevented from paying for abortions, but the bill is now expected to affect organisations like Marie Stopes International and Planned Parenthood International, both of which provide contraceptives and sex education to millions of people worldwide.

In reaction to Mr Trump's executive order, the Dutch government established an initiative called “She Decides” and pledged a donation of 10m euros towards organisations affected by the cuts.

Belgium, Denmark, Canada and Sweden have also pledged their support, with several more indicating they will do so on Thursday, when representatives of 19 governments will meet in Brussels to discuss the issue.

A European parliament resolution, adopted on 14 February, called on EU member states to “counter the impact of the gag rule by significantly increasing sexual and reproductive health and rights funding […] using both national as well as EU development funding.” 

The UK has said it will attend the conference, but – along with other major powers such as France, Japan and Australia – has has yet to announce its support.

“Trump's new dramatically expanded global gag rule represents a very serious danger to the health – and the lives – of women and girls around the world,” Human Rights Watch’s senior researcher on women’s rights Heather Barr, said. 

“The UK has been an important supporter of women's rights, and UK leadership on this issue is urgently needed at this moment.

“UK participation in the She Decides initiative would help send a message to other donors, to women, and to Trump that women's lives are not a political football.”

Almost 225 million women and girls have an unmet need for contraception and The World Health Organisation estimates that every day, around 830 women and girls die from preventable causes related to pregnancy or childbirth.

It also estimates that nearly 7 million women in less economically developed countries are need medical attention after undergoing unsafe abortions annually, and at least 22,000 die from abortion-related complications every year.

Mr Trump said in his first speech to Congress he would  “invest in women's health", vowing to improve childcare services in the US.

But Human Rights Watch anticipated Mr Trump’s version of the gag rule – which has been implemented by previous republican Presidents – would badly affect impact women's health on an unprecedented scale.

Previous Republican Presidents, including George W Bush and Ronald Reagan also indicated versions of the Global Gag Order, but the human rights organisation estimated Trump's version would affect around 16 times more funding than ever before.

Up to $9.5bn (£7.7bn) of funding, which goes to not only funding family planning, but also maternal and child health, HIV, and malaria programmes, is now threatened by the bill.

Foreign organisations receiving US health finance will have to choose between losing their American government sponsorship or choose to stop giving any advice on abortion.

The Department for International Development said the UK was the world's second largest bilateral donor of family planning and that it had more than doubled its investment in the area since 2010.

“The UK is already a global leader on family planning, and sexual and reproductive rights" a spokesperson from the department said.

"We are setting the agenda by hosting a major international summit this summer to secure commitments that increase access to family planning services for women and girls in the world’s poorest and most fragile countries.

“A government minister will represent the UK at the ‘She Decides’ Conference.”