Under President Trump, the United States has stepped back from funding programs that support women’s access to abortion in the developing world. On Tuesday, Canada stepped forward to help close the gap.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced his country will increase annual funding to protect the sexual and reproductive health rights of women and girls to $1.4 billion Canadian dollars (about $1 billion U.S. dollars), starting in 2023.
The hundreds of million in additional annual funding will go to sexual and reproductive health rights and maternal and newborn health, including contraception, legal abortion and sexuality education.
“This is a game-changer that will empower 18 million women and girls in developing countries by 2030,’ Trudeau said.
The announcement, made at a global women’s conference in Vancouver, is part of a push by Trudeau’s Liberal government to make the rights of girls and women a central part of Canada’s overseas engagement — what officials call feminist foreign policy.
It was also designed to draw a contrast between Canada under Trudeau and the United States under President Trump at a time when relations between the allies are strained.
Trudeau made no direct mention of the U.S. president’s efforts to restrict funding to groups linked to abortion, but he didn’t really need to.
Not a week ago, in a meeting with Vice President Pence in Ottawa, Trudeau expressed concern about efforts by some U.S. states to curb access to abortion. On Tuesday, he alluded to politicians who turn women’s health into a political issue.
“Health is health,” he told the crowd. “To be frank, there are some politicians who want to drive a wedge between these two goals, and create a division where none should exist.”
“These divisions are playing out globally with devastating consequences,” he continued. “And women deserve better.”
The prime minister’s office said 25 million unsafe abortions are performed each year because of stigma and restrictions to access of safe medical treatment.
One of Trump’s early moves in office was to sign an executive order to deny U.S. assistance to any foreign-based organization that performs, promotes or offers information on abortion.
That move expanded on the Mexico City policy, the U.S. policy under Republican presidents known by critics as the global gag rule, applying it not just to around $600 million in overseas family-planning funds, but to the entire $8.8 billion in annual U.S. aid for global health.
The restrictions sent the development world into a panic. For the first time, groups that treat diseases such as HIV and malaria and wanted U.S. funding would have to pledge that they wouldn’t take a role in promoting abortion. Because abortion services are often integrated into basic health care, disentangling them has been difficult.
Trudeau’s announcement Tuesday will be popular among the many foreign governments, development groups and nongovernmental organizations that pushed Canada to help fill the funding gap.
“This is an historic investment in girls and women, which will pay dividends for years to come,” said Katja Iversen, president and CEO of Women Deliver, the women’s rights conference where Trudeau spoke, in a statement released by Trudeau’s office.
“Not only will this investment save and better lives, but it will create a ripple effect that will lift up individuals, communities, countries, and whole economies.”