By Selda Ishkin
UNITED NATIONS – Dozens of countries gathered in London this week to commit more than $2 billion toward global family planning efforts. The fundraising push comes amid steep U.S. funding cuts to women’s health groups worldwide.
“This is a difficult political climate for family planning. I’m deeply troubled – as I’m sure you are – by the Trump administration’s proposed budget cuts,” Melinda Gates, co-Chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said at the summit.
The U.S. has historically been the largest donor for global family planning, contributing more than $600 million annually. But a series of policy actions by the Trump administration is threatening America’s status as a top donor.
On his fourth day in office, Trump reinstated the Mexico City Policy, a Reagan-era directive that banned all international NGOs from receiving funds from the U.S. for abortion services and referrals.
In April, the U.S. took the added step of suspending all funding for the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), claiming the agency provided forced abortions in China, a claim UNFPA officials adamantly refute. U.S. contributions to UNFPA totaled more than $62 million in 2016.
One estimate by Marie Stopes International, a British contraception and abortion charity, predicted that U.S. funding cuts caused by the Mexico City Policy alone would lead to as many as 6.5 million unwanted pregnancies.
Total commitments announced at the gathering are expected to exceed $2.5 billion by the year 2020, according to the Family Planning 2020 partnership, which hosted this week’s London summit.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was one of the largest donors to step forward, committing an additional $375 million toward family planning efforts over the next four years.
Every year, about 22,000 women die from abortion-related complications, according to the World Health Organization. Childbirth complications are the leading cause of death for adolescents between 15 and 19 years old.
Since the first Family Planning Summit in London in 2012, more than 82 million unintended pregnancies, 25 million unsafe abortions and 125,000 maternal deaths were prevented.
“It’s clear from our point of view that women everywhere should have access to family planning services, to maternal health,” U.N. spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said.
The Family Planning Summit is just the latest effort to increase commitments to family planning since President Donald Trump took office.
In February, Dutch Development Minister Lilianne Ploumen announced the creation of She Decides, a campaign to mobilize financial support for abortion and other family planning services. More than 50 countries attended the first She Decides conference in Brussels in March and committed some $200 million to the fund.
“Banning abortion does not reduce the number of abortions,” Ploumen said. “What it leads to is dangerous backroom procedures and higher maternal mortality.”
But activists say piecemeal efforts will inevitably fall short of making up for U.S. cuts.
“This additional funding can’t begin to close the gap that the U.S. budget cuts could create,” Gates said. “If empowering women is more than just rhetoric for the president, he will prove it by funding family planning.”