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US Expands Ban on Foreign Aid to Overseas Abortion Providers

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo answers a question during a news conference, March 26, 2019, at the Department of State in Washington.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday expanded the Trump administration’s ban on U.S. aid to groups that promote or provide abortions to include organizations that comply with the rules but give money to others that don’t.

Pompeo also said the U.S. would cut some assistance to the Organization of America States because at least two of its agencies are allegedly lobbying for abortion availability in the Western Hemisphere.

Pompeo said the administration was committed to protecting “the sanctity of life” in the United States and abroad and would enforce the policy “to the broadest extent possible” by not allowing foreign non-governmental organizations to skirt the ban.

“We will refuse to provide assistance to foreign NGOs that give financial support to other foreign groups in the global abortion industry,” Pompeo told reporters at the State Department. “We will enforce a strict prohibition on backdoor funding schemes and end runs around our policy. American taxpayer dollars will not be used to underwrite abortions.”

The move is an expansion of the so-called “Mexico City policy” first established under President Ronald Reagan but rescinded by subsequent Democratic administrations. Just days after taking office in 2017, President Donald Trump reinstated the policy and then expanded it to include all health programs not just reproductive health ones.

Critics of the policy that has been a hallmark of Republican administrations call it the “global gag rule.” They say it hurts reproductive and maternal health care in developing nations. Pompeo denied that and said the U.S. would continue to be a leader in such aid. The U.S. spends some $9 billion to support global health programs.

Abortion rights advocates slammed the decision as dangerous to women’s health, while abortion opponents welcomed it.

Anti-abortion activists march towards the U.S. Supreme Court, during the March for Life in Washington, Jan. 18, 2019. (Photo by Diaa Bekheet)
Anti-abortion activists march towards the U.S. Supreme Court, during the March for Life in Washington, Jan. 18, 2019. (Photo by Diaa Bekheet)

“This administration’s obsession with attacking women’s reproductive health is egregious and dangerous,” said Sen. Jean Shaheen, D-N.H. “Further expanding the global gag rule puts international organizations in an impossible position: provide women the full scope of reproductive health care services or deny critical funding that saves lives. That is unconscionable.”

The Susan B. Anthony Fund, an anti-abortion group, issued a statement praising the step.

“We are excited to see Secretary Pompeo taking additional steps to ensure that Americans’ hard-earned dollars are actually used for health assistance, not funneled to groups that push abortion,” it said.

In addition to the revision of the Mexico City rule, Pompeo said the administration would also start to enforce legislation that bars all U.S. funds from being used to lobby for or against abortion. As a first step in enforcement, he said support for the Organization of American States would be reduced, although it was not immediately clear by how much.

Pompeo said the step came as a result of some OAS institutions promoting greater access to abortion in the Americas. He did not identify them but some Republican lawmakers have urged Pompeo to take action over calls from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission on Women for countries in the hemisphere to ease laws restricting abortion.

“The institutions of the OAS should be focused on the crises in Cuba, Nicaragua and in Venezuela and not advancing the pro-abortion cause,” Pompeo said.