New findings on unsafe abortion, Germany's election, and Trump's refugee cuts: This week in development

Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili (left) congratulates German Chancellor Angela Merkel (right) on her election victory. Photo by: Georgian Government / CC BY-NC-SA

A new study illuminates the burden of unsafe abortions and raises the stakes for family planning policies, Merkel’s victory positions German aid to stay the course, and President Trump waives shipping rules for Puerto Rico relief. This week in development.

U.S. President Donald Trump wants to slash the number of refugees that can be resettled annually in the United States to 45,000 — down from more than 96,000 resettled in 2016 and a stark reversal of former President Barack Obama’s call to increase the number to 110,000. The number of refugees resettled in the U.S. is a tiny fraction of those living as refugees in the countries where they first seek asylum. There are close to 3 million refugees living in Turkey, for example, and more than 1 million in Lebanon. Humanitarian organizations were quick to condemn the president’s decision. “With historically high numbers of innocent people fleeing violence worldwide, the United States response cannot be to welcome a historically low number of refugees into our country,” said Bill O’Keefe, vice president of government relations at Catholic Relief Services, in a statement. Trump’s announcement comes the same week that Pope Francis launched an initiative called “Share the Journey,” aimed at changing the public discourse about refugees and raising awareness of the challenges they face.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel secured a fourth term with her election victory Sunday. Development experts expect this will result in the world’s third largest aid donor staying the course with its assistance to developing countries. That will likely mean continuing to direct significant aid to African countries with the aim of creating jobs and stemming the flow of migrants to Europe as Germany angles for a larger leadership role in confronting global problems. Some critics have warned this focus leads to the “instrumentalization” of development assistance, as the means to an end for Germany’s own domestic political challenges. Others lamented that global development policy received little airing during the election season, since many of Germany’s parties hold relatively similar views on how it should be used, and for what. French President Emmanuel Macron elaborated on his own vision for European cooperation in a speech on Tuesday, which included France and Germany as critical partners. Macron suggested he would seek to increase development assistance and called for a European Union-wide financial transaction tax to help pay for it.

A study published in the Lancet on Wednesday revealed that nearly half of the 56 million abortions performed every year are unsafe, and that 97 percent of unsafe abortions are performed in developing countries. The same study showed that “the proportion of unsafe abortions was significantly higher in countries with highly restrictive abortion laws than in those with less restrictive laws.” Family planning advocates have drawn attention to the findings to point out that funding restrictions and cuts proposed by Trump — the expansion of the so-called “global gag rule” — would further restrict access to safe abortion procedures in developing countries, would likely increase the prevalence of unsafe abortions, and would exacerbate the divide between rich and poor countries. On Tuesday organizations recognized World Contraception Day by highlighting the ways they are working to ensure women have more control over their own contraceptive choices.

The Trump administration announced Thursday that it will temporarily waive a law related to shipping in an effort to speed the humanitarian response in Puerto Rico, after the U.S. territory was devastated by Hurricane Maria. While the Jones Act — or Merchant Marine Act of 1920 — only applies to shipments between U.S. ports, it raises issues similar to those that have stoked controversy with regard to international humanitarian response. The law requires goods shipped between U.S. ports to be carried on U.S. built, operated, and registered vessels. Trump waived the law for Puerto Rico’s response in an effort to speed delivery of critical supplies to an island currently lacking power, fuel, fresh water, food, and other vital services. Currently, half of U.S. international food aid shipments must be delivered on U.S. flagged vessels. In June Reuters reported that President Trump was considering increasing that regulation to apply to all shipments, but changed his mind after U.S. Senator Bob Corker — a long-time advocate for food aid reform — pressed him on the issue. Puerto Rico’s case could give more visibility to the tradeoffs between expediency and preference during humanitarian operations.

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About the author

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    Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.