Anti-'global gag rule' fund reaches $190M

A peer educator explains the benefits of family planning in the Adjumani district of Uganda. Photo by: The Gender Agency / CC BY-NC

A fund to counter the effects of the U.S. government's controversial “global gag rule” has raised around $190 million, it was announced at a conference in Brussels today, as development leaders said it would not be possible to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals without access to family planning services.

Countries including Sweden, Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, Finland, Denmark, Australia, Norway and Luxembourg pledged more than $110 million between them to the “She Decides” fund for family planning, some of which had been previously announced. An additional $20 million was committed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; as well as $50 million from an anonymous private donor; and a personal donation of $10 million from Sir Christopher Hohn, billionaire founder of the Children's Investment Fund Foundation.

The fund was launched by the Netherlands' Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Lilianne Ploumen in late January after U.S. President Donald Trump issued a memorandum reinstating the “global gag rule,” which has been repeatedly removed and reinstated by successive Democratic and Republican presidents since the 1980s. Also known as the Mexico City Policy, it prevents non-U.S. NGOs that provide services or information relating to abortion, including counseling and legal advice, from receiving U.S. government funding for any of their activities.

The Trump memorandum applies to all U.S. global health assistance, an expansion on previous iterations of the policy. NGOs believe this will result in the loss of at least $600 million in U.S. funding. But estimates from two major actors working on reproductive health, IPPF and PAI, suggest it could impact as much as $9.5 billion worth of funding for issues including HIV, maternal health and vaccinations.

Belgium's Minister of Development Cooperation Alexander De Croo opened the conference and said that achieving the Sustainable Development Goals would not be possible without sufficient access to family planning.

“We cannot accept that the purely ideological decision of one country... would push millions of women and girls back into the dark ages,” he said. “We will lead with our actions.”

Matthew Lindley — a spokesperson for IPPF, the world's largest sexual and reproductive health NGO — told Devex that “past evidence has shown that some of the most committed donors can step in” to replace lost funds when the global gag rule is implemented, “but not to the same level.” Speaking before today’s conference, he said that NGOs would now have to take stock of how much funding they can get and what they can use it for.

The details of the She Decides fund were announced at a conference jointly organized by the Belgian, Dutch, Swedish and Danish governments. Ministerial delegations from a broad sweep of donor and recipient nations supportive of the cause attended the conference. Some of the funding will be channeled through the U.N. Population Fund and government development programs, while some will go directly to NGOs, including Marie Stopes International, the beneficiary of Hohn's donation; the International Planned Parenthood Federation; and Population Services International.

NGO workers and government representatives from countries including Pakistan, Colombia and Mali also spoke at the conference about the relationship between access to family planning services and issues such as maternal health, population growth and poverty.

Ploumen added that “family planning significantly reduces poverty and boosts economic growth in countries that need it most.”

The U.K. government — which was present at today’s conference but did not pledge new funds — will host another international summit in London in July, in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, with the aim of securing further funding for family planning.

The summit was planned last year, before the reinstatement of the global gag rule, but has since been seen as an opportunity to make up some of the shortfall that has been created.

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About the author

  • Jessica abrahams

    Jessica Abrahams

    Jessica Abrahams is Devex's Associate Editor for Europe. Based in London, she was previously an editor at Prospect magazine and has written for publications including the Guardian, the Telegraph, Bloomberg News, and Germany's taz.die tageszeitung with a focus on global women's rights and social affairs. She holds graduate degrees in journalism from City University London and in international relations from Institut Barcelona d'Estudis Internacionals.