Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday that he is reducing the U.S. contribution to the Organization of American States, an ally in the pressure campaign on Venezuela, because of its advocacy of abortion rights.
Pompeo’s decision to cut $210,000 in funding came after nine senators sent him a letter last month pointing out OAS organs that campaign for legalized abortion across the Americas.
Luis Almagro, the OAS secretary general, has called for repealing restrictions on abortion throughout much of Latin America and the Caribbean.
Pompeo said he had ordered the full enforcement of a 1981 law, the Siljander Amendment, that prohibits the use of U.S. funds to lobby for or against abortion rights.
“The institutions of the OAS should be focused on addressing crises in Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, not advancing the pro-abortion cause,” he said.
“The American people should rest assured that this administration and this State Department and our USAID will do all we can to safeguard taxpayer dollars and protect and respect the sanctity of life around the globe,” he added.
The Trump administration has reinstated and expanded the “Mexico City policy,” a Reagan-era measure that prohibits U.S. funding for organizations that provide, advocate or even mention legal and safe abortions. In practice, it has been put into force during Republican administrations and rescinded during Democratic administrations.
Trump greatly increased the impact of the policy by applying it not only to about $600 million in family planning funds but also to almost $9 billion in health-care programs around the world. Groups must sign a pledge saying they will apply the Mexico City policy to all the foreign organizations they give grants to, or give up all U.S. funding.
Pompeo said the State Department will be on the lookout to prevent “backdoor funding schemes and end runs around our policy.”
“This is decent. This is right,” Pompeo said. “And I am proud to serve in an administration that protects the least among us.”
Two of the biggest health-care providers in poor countries, particularly in Africa and Asia, have refused to sign the pledge and had to scramble to come up with replacement funding from European governments and private donors.
Groups that provide health care said the expansion in Trump’s executive order imperils care for women and children, especially in rural areas where there are few alternative providers. They say that leads to more pregnancies, including unwanted ones that end in unsafe abortions.
Pompeo dismissed that argument as “just wrong” and said the contention they were setting up conditions for more abortions was “perverse on its face.”
Several antiabortion groups have campaigned for funding cuts to the OAS over the abortion rights advocacy practiced by some of its subgroups.
“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,” Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, said in a statement praising Pompeo’s announcement.
Leana Wen, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, criticized the decision to expand what she called the “global gag rule.”
“This is unethical, dangerous and unacceptable,” Wen said. “Two years into the sweeping expansion of the global gag rule, there are countless examples around the world of patients losing access to health care, especially in places where maternal deaths, HIV rates and unmet need for contraception are unacceptably high.”
Pompeo, an evangelical Christian, has been mentioned as a potential candidate for a Senate or gubernatorial run in Kansas. Initially, he flatly ruled it out. But more recently, he has walked that back, saying in an interview with the Wichita Eagle this month, “The Lord will get me to the right place.”