She Decides movement builds momentum as donations flood in

Access to contraception and family planning advice can bring public health and economic benefits. [DFID/Flickr]

The Dutch Ministry for Development has launched a global movement to counter Donald Trump’s decision to slash funding for healthcare and family planning services in developing countries. EURACTIV France reports.

In just five weeks, the She Decides initiative has managed to raise €181 million to counter President Trump’s ‘gag rule’, prohibiting the public financing of organisations that advise citizens on abortion as a method of family planning.

It all started on 24 January in the Netherlands. Shocked by the American leader’s decision to reinstate the global ‘gag rule’, which undermines years of progress on sexual health and reproductive rights in the developing world, Lilianne Ploumen, the Dutch minister for international trade and development decided to launch a counter-offensive.

Support flooded in from Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Cape Verde and Canada, while Dutch embassies around the world have seen large numbers of citizens arriving to ask how they can personally make a contribution. In just a few days, She Decides made the headlines in 123 countries.

The European Commission, however will not contribute to the initiative. Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway will each give €10m, while Finland and Sweden have promised €20m and Luxembourg €2m.

EU silent over Trump’s funding ban for family planning abroad

The European Commission made only vague statements yesterday (26 January), suggesting it was not part of a Dutch/Belgian initiative set up to counteract Donald Trump’s ban on US federal funding for NGOs providing birth control support or abortions in developing countries.

The gag rule

Since 1984, the global gag rule has typically been abolished by Democrats and reinstated by Republicans, depending on who controls the White House. It prohibits the state financing of any organisation that presents abortion as a method of family planning, even if they do so with their own funds and if abortion is legal in their country.

But the Trump Administration has gone one step further than previous Republican presidencies, extending the rule to cover all aid for activities linked to health. Where previous gag rules have covered €547m of spending for family planning, its current incarnation covers the €9bn spent by the US on healthcare in developing countries, said Ann Stars, from the Guttmacher Institute.

“We do not know yet how many partners of the US will be affected by this rule,” she said. “Foreign NGOs will have to make a choice: either they should promise to respect the American conditions and never refer to abortion or, if they refuse, lose their funding. In both cases, it will be women in the poorest countries that suffer the consequences of this decision.”

Ex-development minister: 'If men were the ones giving birth, healthcare would be better equipped'

Hundreds of thousands of women die during or after childbirth, and HIV often affects young women in poorer countries. Germany’s former Development Minister, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul told EURACTIV Germany that the EU has to do more to empower women.

A policy from another era

Experts believe that the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of eradicating extreme poverty can only be achieved with suitable promotion of sexual and reproductive rights.

“Achieving gender equality would increase global GDP by 25%,” said Ulla Tørnæs, Denmark’s development minister. “Women’s rights are human rights. It is as simple as that.”

What is more, previous experience shows that the gag rule does nothing to drive down the number of abortions. On the contrary, abortion figures go up because as women lose access to sex education and information on contraception, more become pregnant. And these extra abortions often take place in dangerous and unhygienic conditions.

Some 20 million women undergo abortions in unsafe conditions every year. “We have halved infant and maternal diseases in the last decade. There have never been that many girls in school, able to make their own choices and master their own future,” said Alexander De Croo, Belgium’s minister for development. “We want that to continue, and don’t want to see millions of girls kicked back into dark ages.”

Council of Europe raps Italy over difficulty in obtaining abortions

Women’s rights are being violated in Italy by the serious difficulties they face in trying to obtain safe abortions due to many doctors refusing to carry out the procedure, the Council of Europe said on Monday (11 April).

In charge of her own body and life

The aim of She Decides, says Ploumen, is simply to allow all women to decide if they want children, with whom and when. The platform hopes to raise enough money to fill the void left by the withdrawal of US aid.

“Equal opportunity is an important sustainable development goal, but if we want equal opportunity, access to family planning and sexual health and reproductive rights will be a crucial aspect. Today we are half-way to realising our sustainable development objectives of eradicating extreme poverty by 2030. Why should we stop now?” De Croo argued. He insisted that this initiative is not directed “against” anyone in particular.

Ploumen was firmer in her stance. She hopes to meet the American president soon and convince him to change his mind.

“We know the gag rule will have a multiple impact: the end of sex education for young people, the end of family planning for couples, less healthcare during pregnancy, more sexually transmitted diseases, etc. The list is long. In the end, this is the result: fewer women and girls will have control over their own bodies and lives. And the number of abortions will increase,” she said.

Since 1984, the global gag rule has typically been abolished by Democrats and reinstated by Republicans, depending on who controls the White House. A law adopted in 1973 prohibits the government from financing abortion abroad as a method of family planning. The Mexico City Policy, introduced by George Bush in 2001, goes further, extending this ban to all organisations that use abortion as a method of family planning, even if the abortions are carried out with their own funds and it is legal in their country.

The Trump Administration went even further, stretching the law to cover all financing linked to healthcare, whether or not organisations offer family planning services.

Aware of the potentially catastrophic consequences of this decision on global development, Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Lilianne Ploumen launched the She Decides initiative in an attempt to fill the funding gap.

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