Less than a month after President Donald Trump reinstated the Global Gag Rule, banning federal funding for international organizations that provide or offer information about abortion, eight countries are attempting to replace hundreds of millions in lost funding for reproductive health.
The Belgian government said Thursday that it will host the “She Decides” conference on March 2, which the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Luxembourg, Finland, Canada and Cape Verde have agreed to attend. So far, the AP reported that Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark have committed a combined $32 million to finance access to birth control, abortion and sex education for women in developing countries.
When the Netherlands announced the global fund in January, they estimated that Trump’s Global Gag Rule would mean a loss of $600 million in funding worldwide, with the potential of being up to $9.5 billion under the expanded terms of the gag rule.
“If you know that this is a very bad road to go down if you want to save women’s lives, if you want women and families to have power over their own lives and that girls should be able to go to school and not get pregnant too early, then it is important that we stand up for the right to planned, safe and legal abortions. But also that we show how much money we are prepared to put up,” Sweden’s Deputy Prime Minister Isabella Lövin told Swedish news agency TT.
Lövin said she was not yet certain that their efforts would be able to fill the funding gap left by the U.S., but that the conference would also invite philanthropists, private donors and representatives from 50 governments to contribute.
The Swedish minister grabbed headlines last week when she appeared to make a jab at Trump by posting an image of herself and female colleagues, resembling the photo of the U.S. president signing off on the anti-abortion order while surrounded by men.
The Global Gag Rule has been instituted by U.S. Republican administrations and rescinded by Democratic ones since 1984. Former President Barack Obama last lifted it in 2009.
Trump dramatically expanded the scope of the policy to include all global health assistance provided by the U.S. government, including funds to combat tuberculosis, malaria, and AIDS. Under the expanded policy, the International Planned Parenthood Federation told the Guardian that the group stands to lose up to $100 million it receives from the U.S., none of which is used for abortion services.
A draft of another executive order, which has yet to undergo federal review, would expand the current policy even further by freezing funding to United Nations organizations that endorse abortion or sterilization.
The executive orders have drawn sharp rebukes from women’s health advocates all over the world, who say the move will threaten the lives of millions of the world’s poorest women and families, leaving mothers with little choice but to seek unsafe abortions or to give birth to children they cannot afford to care for.
Marie Stopes International estimated that the loss of its USAID-funded services alone over the next four years would result in 6.5 million unintended pregnancies, 2.2 million unsafe abortions and 21,700 maternal deaths.
Many organizations are still trying to determine whether they can continue to run reproductive health programs under the policy, which the director of the International Center for Reproductive Health (ICRH) in Mozambique considers “bullying and blackmail.”
“We receive U.S. funding to provide HIV, sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services to sex workers. The ‘global gag’ rule pushes us into a corner: abandon our efforts to support access to safe abortion or close down our program providing essential SRH services to marginalized people,” ICRH’s Sally Griffin told the Guardian. “Either way, vulnerable women will have their reproductive and sexual rights compromised.”