Abortion restrictions expanded for foreign nonprofits receiving US health funds

PHOTO: President Donald Trump signs the first of three Executive Orders in the Oval Office of the White House, January 23, 2017. The "Mexico City" executive order, which bans federal funding of abortions overseas, was one of them. PlayGetty Images
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The Trump administration is expanding a policy that requires foreign non-governmental organizations to neither perform nor promote abortion as a method of family planning, if they receive U.S. global health assistance funding.

Specifically, today’s announcement widens the number of foreign programs affected by the policy, from programs totaling $575 million in funding to $8.8 billion. Now, any foreign NGO that works on international health programs, such as those for HIV/AIDS, maternal and child health and malaria, cannot perform abortions, refer or counsel women to receive abortions or lobby for or conduct public information campaigns in support of abortion. Exemptions exist for abortions in the event of incest, rape, or danger to the mother's life.

Previously, what was known as the Mexico City policy only applied to family planning and reproductive health programs overseas.

The biggest additional programs that would now be required to follow the new policy are the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which provides access to prevention, care, and treatment to combat HIV/AIDS, as well as the President’s Malaria Initiative –- two international health programs started under the George W. Bush administration.

What is not included in the change is funding to foreign governments, multilateral organizations, migration and refugee assistance, and disaster and humanitarian relief from USAID and the Pentagon. The change also doesn’t decrease the total funding for global health assistance, according to a State Department official.

If a foreign NGO cannot meet the new requirements, the administration says it will redirect funds to a similar group that can comply.

The announcement was met with praise from anti-abortion rights groups in the U.S.

"The Executive Memorandum implemented today is one of the reasons pro-life voters worked to elect Donald Trump to the White House. With the implementation of Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance, we have officially ceased exporting abortion to foreign nations," said Marjorie Dannenfelser of the Susan B. Anthony List, a nonprofit that seeks to end abortion in the U.S. "By modernizing this important policy and expanding it to include $8.8 billion in foreign aid, President Trump is continuing Ronald Reagan’s pro-life legacy."

There is some question about the $8.8 billion figure. though. At $6.8 billion, PEPFAR comprises the majority of that sum -- but most of their funds go directly to foreign governments and are exempt from this new rule. Another $1.1 to 1.3 billion goes to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and is also exempt. A senior State Department official could not say how much money this would cut to recipients providing or promoting abortions, but said the important point is that it applies to all global health assistance programs.

Pro-abortion rights groups were quick to condemn the move as a threat to women's lives and health care abroad.

"This policy is sure to tragically increase the number of unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortions and women dying from pregnancy-related complications around the world," said Latanya Mapp Frett, executive director of Planned Parenthood Global. "We know this because we saw it under previous versions of the policy -- and this rule goes even further."

Effective today, the new clause will be included in all future grants and cooperative agreements. Moving forward, when any existing agreement or grant is amended to provide additional funds, the clause will be added. At that point, recipient organizations will be required to sign and pledge that they will abide by the new clause or lose U.S. funds.

The Mexico City policy, first announced in 1984 by the Reagan administration, has been rescinded and reinstated by successive Democratic and Republican administrations since then. President Trump signed a presidential memorandum on January 23 to reinstate it and to order the Secretary of State to explore how to expand it.

This change in policy makes good on that order, as well as Trump’s promise that no taxpayer will be used to support organizations that promote or provide abortions, according to a State Department official.

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