Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has pledged $700 million for global sexual and reproductive health rights, including safe abortions, a sharp contrast to U.S. President Donald Trump's cuts to foreign organizations that so much as mentioned abortion.
Speaking at the Women Deliver conference in Vancouver on Tuesday, Trudeau promised to increase Canada’s global funding for women’s health from $1.1 billion to $1.4 billion a year by 2023. The pledge increases the amount of funding dedicated to sexual and reproductive health, including access to contraception and legal abortions, from $400 million to $700 million. He said it would empower 18 million women and girls in developing countries by 2030, but didn’t get into specifics about exactly how the funding will be distributed.
“While other countries are stepping back on their investments and playing politics with it, Canada is stepping up,” Trudeau said Tuesday.
Although Trudeau didn’t say the U.S. president’s name, a member of the group that worked on the policy said the funding was intended to make a small dent in the gap left by the Trump administration. “The sexual and reproductive health rights piece is especially critical because of the expanded Global Gag Rule,” the consultant, who did not want to be named because they did not want to speak for the government, said.
Called the “Global Gag Rule” by critics, the U.S. Mexico City policy dates back to the Reagan administration. Under the rule, non-governmental organizations couldn’t receive U.S. funding unless they showed they were not performing or promoting abortions. The policy was repealed in 2009 by the Obama administration. But on Jan. 23, 2017, in one of his first moves as president, Donald Trump signed an executive order restoring it, and in March, he expanded it.
The policy now restricts the entire $8.8 billion pool of U.S. global health assistance to organizations that show they are not performing, promoting or providing information on abortion, or providing funding to other groups that provide or promote abortion.
It’s a massive restriction given that the U.S. is the largest global donor on health, and new research shows the funding is desperately needed.
On Wednesday at the same conference, the International Women’s Health Coalition released a new report on Trump’s Global Gag Rule that conducted 170 interviews with people affected by the policy and found it is “reducing the quality and availability of care, particularly for marginalized communities” in Kenya, Nepal, Nigeria, and South Africa.
“This deadly policy violates the rights of patients and ties the hands of providers,” IWHC President Françoise Girard said in a statement. “After two years of implementation, the impact is clear: The Global Gag Rule reduces access to contraceptives and abortion care, leading to unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions, and preventable deaths.”
The report found that in Kenya, an organization for women and sex workers was forced to stop providing abortion information and referrals, leading to two of their clients’ deaths after they resorted to unsafe methods to terminate their pregnancies.
The new findings are in line with previous research. An October 2017 Human Rights Watch report that interviewed 45 organizations in Kenya found “the policy has triggered reductions in key sexual and reproductive health services from well-established organizations that cannot easily be replaced.”
In reaction to Trudeau’s funding announcement, Oxfam Canada said the news was “thrilling.”
“This announcement could not come at a better time,” said Julie Delahanty, executive director of Oxfam Canada. “The world is witnessing a backlash against reproductive rights and there are increasing threats to women’s bodily autonomy and the right to choose. Canada’s leadership is needed more than ever to ensure hard won gains do not get rolled back.”
Following a meeting with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on May 30, Trudeau said he had raised concerns about America’s new anti-choice laws.
“We are a country, a government that will always defend a woman’s right to choose,” he told reporters.