Dutch government meets Trump's abortion 'gag rule' with a fund of its own

The Dutch government says it will set up a fund to help families worldwide after President Trump reinstated a rule that bars international groups that perform or promote abortions from receiving US government funding.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
President Donald Trump, flanked by Vice President Mike Pence (l.) and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus (r.), looks up while signing an executive order on the reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on January 23, 2017.

On Monday, President Trump reinstated a ban on federal funding to all overseas aid organizations that provide information or assistance to women seeking abortions.

Using US taxpayer dollars to fund abortions overseas has been illegal since 1976, under a law known as the Helms Amendment. A separate policy dating to 1984, known as the Mexico City Policy, bans funding of groups that “promote” abortion – for instance, by informing women where they can receive an abortion or providing post-abortion care.

Many aid organizations consider these practices to be inseparable from a larger regimen of family planning. The US government has been the largest single donor to these programs, giving $585 million in bilateral family-planning aid, and an additional $28 million to the United Nations Population Fund, in 2013. Family-planning advocates fear that Trump’s decision will lead to these funds getting cut.

The Dutch government says it doesn’t want to let that happen. On Wednesday, Lilianne Ploumen, the Netherlands’ international development minister, announced plans to create an international abortion fund to offset a decline in US aid.

"This decision has far-reaching consequences above all for the women it affects, who should be able to decide for themselves if they want a child, but also for their husbands and children and for society as a whole," Ms. Ploumen said.

Despite its small size, the Netherlands has been a major supporter of global reproductive health care, donating more than any other country except the United States or Britain to family-planning efforts in 2013.

Ploumen sees a vital role for the country moving forward. “Last year alone Dutch support for women’s organisations helped to prevent an estimated six million unwanted pregnancies and half a million abortions,” Dutch News quoted her as saying. “The decision by the United States threatens to undermine these results. We mustn’t let that happen.”

Even so, the Dutch government recognizes that it can’t fill the massive funding gap left by the US on its own. Ploumen plans to meet with her counterparts from other European countries and Latin America to discuss contributions to the effort. She also described it as “a broad-based fund that governments, companies and civil society organizations can donate to."

This fund is poised to capture an international surge in concern for women’s reproductive health. This past Sunday, an estimated 4,876,700 marchers participated in 673 Women’s Marches around the world. One of the March’s Unity Principles, “Reproductive Freedom,” states, “We do not accept any federal, state or local rollbacks, cuts or restrictions on our ability to access quality reproductive healthcare services...This means open access to safe, legal, affordable abortion and birth control for all people.”

Donations from groups and governments that share this viewpoint may not only keep family-planning programs operational but also provide a more reliable stream of income than US government funding. On Tuesday, the Monitor’s Gretel Kaufman described the Mexico City Policy as a “game of political tennis,” implemented by Republicans and rescinded by Democrats. “Reinstating the rule is all but mandatory for a Republican president who wishes to maintain credibility with the pro-life community,” she noted.

Trump’s decision on Tuesday continues the match and leaves family-planning groups in search of other funding sources. This time, they could be turning to the Netherlands.

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