Australians reject Trump-style bans on abortion funding in foreign aid: Poll

Protesters march to the White House during a march and rally to support women's health programs and protest the White House global gag rule on March 8, 2017. Source: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The majority of Australians support foreign aid money being spent on increasing access to women's health and family planning services in developing countries, a poll has found.

Australian voters across party lines would not support foreign aid restrictions which would outlaw funding of family planning services, a poll by Family Planning NSW has found.

The poll asked respondents whether it was important that Australia supports Pacific Island countries to provide sexual and reproductive health services - including contraception, cervical screening and family planning - through the foreign aid budget.

A total of 67 per cent of respondents said it was important, with 20 per cent describing it as not important.

Support was highest among Greens voters, at 86 per cent, but support was also high among Coalition voters, 64 per cent, and Labor voters, 76 per cent.

One of Donald Trump’s first moves as president was to re-instate a ‘global gag rule’ in US foreign aid policy - a rule which prevents funding of any organisations which provide or advise on abortion services.

The move prompted outcry from development experts and led the Dutch government to form an international women’s health fund – 'She Decides' – to “counter” the US policy.

The majority of respondents told pollsters they would not support a similar ban in Australia.

The Australian government currently supports access to “safe and professional” abortion services through the foreign aid budget, with access for women up to 20 weeks into their pregnancy.

"Access to sexual and reproductive health, particularly family planning, remains critical to women’s empowerment, improving gender equality and reducing maternal and child mortality," a spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said.

Family Planning NSW released the poll as part of a campaign to swat back attempts by the Australian Christian Lobby to push the government to reinstate a similar ban in Australia’s foreign aid policy.

“We stand united in opposition to the US-imposed Global Gag Rule, which undermines women's health, rights and autonomy and we support the Australian Government's funding of sexual and reproductive health activities within the Australian aid program,” the organisation said.

“Complications arising from pregnancy, childbirth and unsafe abortions are leading killers of women and girls in developing countries, causing the deaths of 830 women each day.”

But Wendy Francis, spokesperson for the Australian Christian Lobby, told SBS she was infuriated by the poll, in which the question of reproductive health services was linked to the funding of contraception and cervical screening.

"Proper birthing facilities is the real issue, not abortion. Clean water is the big issue, not abortion," she said.

Ms Francis said that support for abortion services in the foreign aid budget represented colonialist thinking. 

"Has anyone asked the Pacific Island nations themselves whether they want abortion services?"

The World Health Organisation says that to avoid maternal deaths, it is “vital” to prevent unwanted and “too-early” pregnancies.

“All women, including adolescents, need access to contraception, safe abortion services to the full extent of the law, and quality post-abortion care,” WHO policy states.

Australia’s foreign aid policy states that it is guided by international standards and equality with Australians' access to abortion and contraceptive services.

“Australia aims to reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies and thereby minimise the need for women to resort to abortion,” the policy states.

The policy has existed in its current form since 2009, when the Rudd Government overturned a Howard-era ban on funding abortion services, despite then-Prime Minister Rudd reportedly holding personal reservations over the repeal.

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