UK defies US over abortion funding

Britain is to step in and replace funding for abortion services and family planning services withdrawn by the the United States, the Guardian reports today.

The Bush administration instituted the “global gag rule” in 2001, meaning that no aid organisation that provides information about or access to abortion can receive funding from the US, even if the money is ringfenced for other projects.

We should all breathe a sigh of relief that someone is paying for this work to be done. But it is ridiculous that the UK has been forced to step in to make up for the unforgivable position of the US. Consider:

The International Planned Parenthood Federation today publishes a report revealing that 19 million women will face the risk of death, disease and imprisonment to get an illegal abortion this year. The consequence will be fatal for 70,000 of them. Death from illegal abortion accounts for a staggering 13% of all maternal deaths. In Kenya, the figure soars to 30-50%.

The Department for International Development will contribute £3m over two years. DFID and the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) – whose clinics across the world have suffered badly – hope that others, particularly the Scandinavians, Dutch and Canadians, will be emboldened to put money in too.

“I think the UK is being very brave and very progressive in making this commitment,” said Steven Sinding, director general of the IPPF. “We’re deeply grateful for this gesture not only financially but also politically.

“Tens of thousands of women who depend on our services are not able to get them. We’re committed to the expansion of safe abortion because in any society no matter how efficiently contraception is made available there will be unplanned and unwanted pregnancies.”

The “global gag”, he said, had increased the number of unsafe abortions by stopping funding to clinics that primarily provide contraception. “What I’ve never been able to figure out about American policy is why they persist in cutting down funding to organisations that are about preventing unwanted pregnancies.”

International development minister Gareth Thomas said the government hoped the US position would change: “We work very closely with the Americans but we have a very different view from them on abortion. Friends can disagree.

“I recognise that the Americans are not going to want to contribute at the moment. We obviously continue to hope that the position will change. It is a position that has been decided by Congress so we’re very aware of it and they know that.”