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'Dire consequences' as Trump extends aid ban for organisations engaging in abortion-related care

Reproductive rights advocates say women in developing countries will be hurt by the expansion of a US ban on abortion-related aid. Source: AP

There is concern the Trump administration’s expansion of a ban on US aid to groups promoting access to abortion-related services will harm women in developing nations.

Reproductive rights advocates are concerned the “unprecedented” expansion of a US ban on foreign aid to groups encouraging abortion-related services will cause a “chilling effect” in developing nations.

The latest iteration of the Mexico City Policy (MCP) extends to groups that already comply with the ban but give money to other organisations which do not.

“American taxpayer dollars will not be used to underwrite abortions,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said when announcing the change on Tuesday.

Phoebe Ryan, the chief of International Planned Parenthood Federation's (IPPF) Australia and New Zealand Office, said the MCP's newest expansion will block critical funding for contraception, maternal health, and HIV prevention.

"We expect it will cause a further chilling effect in the way that organisations can operate and partner with one another around the world. It’s going to lead to dire consequences,” Ms Ryan told SBS News.

“When women in developing countries resort to unsafe abortion, many of them will experience lifelong disability, and in the worst case scenario, women die as a result of infection."

There is concern expansion will adversely impact the reproductive and maternal health of women in developing countries
There is concern expansion will adversely impact the reproductive and maternal health of women in developing countries

Marie Stopes International Australia's executive officer Chris Turner said women and vulnerable groups in developing countries will be most affected.

“The implication is very serious for communities around the world who rely on the international community for support for their health systems,” he told SBS News. 

“The effects go far beyond the issue of abortion.”

Mortality and health complications from unsafe abortion disproportionately affect women in developing nations.

There are 220 deaths per 100 000 unsafe abortions in developing regions and 520 deaths per 100 000 unsafe abortions in sub-Saharan Africa, compared to just 30 deaths per 100 000 unsafe abortions in developed nations, according to the World Health Organisation. 

Anti-abortion groups in the US, such as the Susan B. Anthony Fund, praised the Trump administration’s move.

“We are excited to see Secretary Pompeo taking additional steps to ensure that Americans’ hard-earned dollars are actually used for health assistance, not funnelled to groups that push abortion,” it said in a statement.

Another group, March for Life, did the same.

“Taxpayer dollars should not fund abortion here or abroad, and respecting the inherent dignity of the unborn person goes hand in glove with our country’s foreign assistance and humanitarian work,” March for Life president Jeanne Mancini said.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at the State Department in Washington, DC.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at the State Department in Washington, DC.

What is the Mexico City Policy?

The MCP, known as the "global gag rule” to some critics, prohibits the distribution of US funds to organisations engaged, directly or indirectly, on the issue of abortion.

Studies have found the MCP can lead to closures of health clinics, less contraception use and increases in unsafe abortion rates.

The policy is named after the city where it was announced in 1984.

US President Donald Trump reinstated and expanded the MCP soon after his inauguration in 2017, expanding the ban from covering the US family planning budget to the entire international health budget.

"When the Trump administration reinstated the MCP in 2017 around seven to nine billion dollars of US foreign assistance was implicated,” Ms Ryan said.

“That expansion was unprecedented. The latest expansion is again unprecedented."

President Donald Trump speaks to reporters before leaving the White House in Washington, Wednesday, March 20, 2019, for a trip to visit the Lima Army Tank Plant in Lima, Ohio, and a fundraising event in Canton. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Donald Trump speaks to reporters at the White House, Wednesday, March 20, 2019.
AAP Image/AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

Now, Chris Turner expects his organistaion will feel the pinch.

"The removal of all US funding from our budget means at the moment about a 50 million US dollar gap we aren’t able to close,” he said.

“We estimate that will mean about 1.4 million women and girls won’t be reached with a method of reproductive health service that we expect we otherwise would have provided.”

The US has supported family planning and reproductive health programs since the 1960s, but has cut around $115 million USD from the budget since 2010.

Australian aid ‘absolutely vital’

The Australian government says it aims to provide the same range of family planning services and contraceptives to women in developing countries as afforded to Australian women, subject to the national laws of the relevant nation concerned. 

However, Australia’s overall aid budget has been slashed over the past five years, which according to the Lowy Institute, has left Australia at an all-time low when it comes to aid generosity.

Given the Trump administration's expansion of the MCP, Australia should consider revising its aid cuts, Mr Turner said.

"The Australian aid program is absolutely vital and hugely significant – however, since 2014 it has been reduced significantly,” he said.

“We would certainly like to see funding returned to the aid program, and within that, a greater priority on health and population issues.”

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