RUSSELS — Nations and philanthropists pledged close to $200 million Thursday for family planning at an international conference that aimed to make up for the gap left by President Trump’s ban on US funding to groups linked to abortion.
Some 50 governments attended the hastily convened one-day conference in Brussels and the funding drive was boosted by Sweden, Canada, and Finland each promising $21 million. Private donors like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation provided tens of millions more.
Conference host and Belgian Deputy Premier Alexander De Croo said one anonymous US donor committed $50 million, pushing the total up to a provisional $190 million.
One of Trump’s first acts as president was to withhold an estimated half billion dollars a year in funding from international groups that perform abortions or provide information about them. The Trump administration said the ban is necessary because it doesn’t want to provide funds for something it considers morally wrong.
Officials in many European nations and around the world say the move just hurts women and girls who need family planning the most and will lead to more abortions, not less.
“The purely ideological decision of one country” can push women and girls back “into the Dark Ages,” said conference host Belgian Deputy Premier Alexander De Croo.
“We will start making something great again,” he said of the drive to boost family planning policies in developing nations, riffing off Trump’s “make America great again” campaign slogan.
Belgium, Denmark, and the Netherlands had already committed to contributing at least 10 million euros each. African and Asian countries were also the conference, as well as officials from the European Union and the United Nations and private donors.
Finnish Development Minister Kai Mykkanen said the US moves “threaten to suspend a large number of projects helping to defend the health of millions of girls, even helping to save their lives. We respond to the situation fraught with distress by investing in the improvement of women’s and girls’ rights even more than before.”
The conference stressed that abortion was only a small part of family planning in developing nations. It emphasized the need for more sex education and more availability of contraceptives and warned about the dangers of sexually related diseases and of female genital mutilation. It also backed sexual rights, so women and girls can stand up for the inviolability of their bodies.
US bans on funding international groups that perform or even talk about abortions have been instituted by Republican administrations and rescinded by Democratic ones since 1984. Former President Barack Obama last lifted it in 2009. But under Trump, the ban has been massively expanded.
Participants said that instead of decreasing abortions, when bans were in place, the number of involuntarily pregnancies and abortions increased.
“The number of abortions will not fall, they will rise,” because of an increase in unwanted pregnancies, said Dutch Development Minister Lilianne Ploumen.
De Croo insisted that he was not defending abortion.
“To be clear, any abortion that takes place is one too many.” he said. “But if it has to take place, then I think it should be available and it should be available in a safe way.”
— Raf Casert