Melinda Gates has said the increased anti-abortion restrictions placed on foreign family planning clinics under Donald Trump are “very troubling”.
Despite her public personal stance against abortion and her lack of advocacy for the procedure, Ms Gates spoke against the Mexico City policy, or “gag rule” under Mr Trump, as she argued the broader application of the rule in 2017 would endanger overall reproductive health services that foreign organisations provide.
“US funding can never go to an abortion organisation, ever. That is a longstanding rule […]” Ms Gates, the co-founder of one of the world's largest charitable foundations alongside husband Bill Gates, told the Today Programme.
Yet she said the Trump administration has expanded the Mexico City policy “very broadly", so foreign "reproductive health organisations have to say, even if you’re not receiving government funding for […] abortions, you won’t even do these [abortions] in your clinic with funding, say, from the UK or from France.
“And that is very troubling.”
Ms Gates is co-hosting an international summit on family planning in London, where donors are anticipated to raise more than $2.5 billion to expand access to contraception.
Ms Gates said that contraception access was the “most effective anti-poverty tool we have” and that 40 developing country governments are interested in the initiative if they can get funding.
The London summit comes shortly after Mr Trump proposed to take away money from the UN Population Fund, the United Nations agency that works on reproductive and sexual health around the world.
“He [Trump] is proposing not funding family planning and that is a huge problem,” she said.
“If you believe in women, you fund family planning and so I’m counting on Congress in the US to hold up US funding on family planning.”
She added: “This [funding family planning] has been a very longstanding bipartisan issue and Bill and I have had many meetings over the last few months on the [Capitol] Hill to explain why this aid, why for just a few dollars a year, you could put a young girl and her family on the path to self-sufficiency.”
She said she had also met many times with the Catholic Church to argue that providing contraception can “transform economies” and was “one of the smartest investments countries can make”.
Experts say that around 220 million women around the world lack access to contraceptives, which would help avoid 67 million unplanned pregnancies every year and the resulting 76,000 deaths of women from pregnancy and childbirth-related complications.
The economic benefit could be as much as $430 billion per year, they claim.
The Foundation does not fund abortion rights or access.
Unsafe abortions is one of the top three causes of women's mortality around the world, and critics say that even massive expansions to contraceptive access would still leave millions of women at risk.
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