President Trump's decision to reinstate a policy blocking federal money for nongovernmental organizations that perform abortion-related services was harshly criticized by opponents this week. One European ally of the U.S., the Netherlands, has decided to openly oppose the president's decision in the latest sign of a growing transatlantic rift.
According to the Dutch development ministry, as many as 20 other nations have indicated that they might support the country's effort to fund programs with about $600 million in total over the next two to three weeks. This would fill the predicted financial gap caused by Trump's policy change over the next four years.
“As well as contacting a number of European countries that we work with on these issues, we’re also in touch with countries in South America and Africa, as well as the foundations. It’s important to have the broadest possible support for the fund,” Lilianne Ploumen, the Netherlands' international development minister, was quoted as saying by the British Guardian newspaper. She did not name the other countries interested in providing funding but neighboring Belgium announced Wednesday that it supported the idea.
Apart from Northern Ireland, where abortions are permitted only to save a pregnant woman's life, Europeans have some of the world's most relaxed stances on the issue. Many NGOs that provide abortion-related services or advocacy are based in Europe and would probably suffer under the consequences of Trump's decision to reinstate what is known by opponents as the Gag Rule.
The effectiveness of that policy has been frequently questioned. One study conducted by Stanford University's School of Medicine concluded that cutting funding might have the opposite effect on abortion rates than what Republicans aimed for. After the Gag Rule was reinstated under President George W. Bush, for instance, abortion rates in sub-Saharan Africa increased by 40 percent, presumably because the drop in funding also made it harder for NGOs to distribute condoms or to counsel people on contraception.
“If women consider abortion as a way to prevent unwanted births, then policies curtailing the activities of organizations that provide modern contraceptives may inadvertently lead to an increase in the abortion rate,” the authors concluded.
Whether NGOs are allowed to provide family counseling — which could effectively mean advocating for women to have abortions — has been controversial in the United States for decades. First introduced by President Ronald Reagan in 1984, the Gag Rule was revoked several times amid changes in government. Democratic presidents usually reinstated the funding, whereas support was cut when Republicans were in power.
But one rule was left untouched amid the frequent changes. An amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act passed in 1973 made it illegal for U.S.-funded NGOs to perform abortions themselves. That rule has been in place ever since, even during the Obama administration.
Wednesday's announcement by the Dutch development ministry, however, appeared to include organizations directly involved in performing abortions.
“These are successful and effective programs: direct support, distributing condoms, making sure women are accompanied at the birth, and making sure abortion is safe if they have no other choice,” Ploumen was quoted as saying.