Last week, the Trump administration announced it will withhold $32.5 million in funding from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) over unverified accusations the agency supports Chinese government family planning programs that practice coercive abortion.
In a statement, the UNFPA denied the claim, clarifying the scope of its work on maternal health in over 150 countries and territories, and U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric cited an “inaccurate perception of the nature and importance of the work of the UNFPA” as a cause for the decision and its potentially “devastating effects on the health of vulnerable women and girls and their families around the world.” The potential impact of the government’s move, combined with the earlier reinstatement of the Global Gag Rule (or Mexico City Policy), which similarly cuts U.S. aid funding to charities that provide, support or discuss abortion, has many family planning providers and aid organizations alarmed.
To understand the impact of the move, Women & Girls spoke with Planned Parenthood Global, the international arm of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA). Planned Parenthood Global, which launched in its current form in 2011, works in partnership with more than a hundred grassroots organizations in 12 countries across Africa and Latin America to expand access to sexual and reproductive health services. Unlike PPFA, it doesn’t use U.S. funds, but through its global advocacy work has seen what happens when that funding source runs dry.
We spoke with Chloe Cooney, director of Global Advocacy at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, about the ramifications of the cuts.
Women & Girls: What do clinics and service providers lose due to U.S. policies such as the Global Gag Rule or defunding UNFPA? Can you share some specific examples?
Chloe Cooney: The Global Gag Rule, as it existed under past anti-women’s health presidents, was deeply harmful and we have the research and stories to prove it. But President Trump’s Global Gag Rule goes even further, and its effect will be catastrophic for all communities, especially those relying on U.S. funding to address HIV/AIDS and maternal healthcare, and, yes, even the fight against Zika. More women and communities will lose access to a range of health services and information, and more organizations will be asked to give up their free speech rights.
For example, Teresa de Vargas is the cofounder and executive director of CEMOPLAF, which is one of the largest reproductive healthcare providers in Ecuador and a partner of Planned Parenthood Global. What began as one clinic in Quito more than 40 years ago has grown under Teresa’s leadership into a national association of 22 health centers across Ecuador. Teresa and her colleagues at CEMOPLAF can be credited, in part, for Ecuador’s improved rates of contraceptive prevalence in recent decades, thus improving the lives of women and their families and reducing maternal deaths. If the Global Gag Rule had been in effect 40 years ago, it’s possible that Ecuador would be in a completely different situation when it comes to women’s health. And under President Trump’s new policy, countless “Teresas” around the world will be forced to choose between providing the comprehensive care they know is right for the health of their communities and being recipients of U.S. aid.
Women around the world also rely on UNFPA, one of the world’s most vital sources of contraceptive supplies. UNFPA works in over 150 countries, including over a hundred countries where USAID does not have a family planning program, supporting many of the world’s poorest nations to help women survive childbirth, have healthy babies and determine the number and spacing of their children. UNFPA is also the largest global provider of maternal health care in humanitarian emergencies. In fact, UNFPA has been an essential provider of life-saving maternity care to Syrian refugees. That is just one example of communities that will suffer because of the UNFPA defunding.
Women & Girls: Is the UNFPA losing U.S. funding tied to a larger pattern, in your opinion, and what are the reasons for it?
Cooney: Time and again [President Trump] has shown that he does not value the lives of girls. The new administration and the new Congress have been particularly cruel in their policies toward women – and it hasn’t even been three months.
Between the Trump administration’s so-called budget blueprint, its most recent action to “defund” UNFPA, and the expansion of the Global Gag Rule signed on his first Monday in office, it’s clear that they have one aim: to gain political points at the expense of women and girls. The budget proposal cuts funding for programs that serve people in most critical need of support and it harms the United States’ relationships with the international community. These proposed cuts create less economic and political stability, which ultimately make all of us less safe.
On top of that, reproductive health programs around the world have made strides to bring down maternal mortality and prevent unintended pregnancy. The administration’s actions will have a devastating impact on the very programs that made these gains possible, and reduce access to family planning – something we know will reverse those gains and put women’s lives at risk.
Women & Girls: What can organizations like the UNFPA, and others that may face cuts in the future, do to survive?
Cooney: This administration presents one of the worst crises for global reproductive health and rights we’ve ever seen. But we are also a stronger movement than ever before.
At Planned Parenthood, we believe that how we respond to this moment has as much to do with how well we can defend against the imminent threats as it does in shaping the course of our future successes. We won’t let women down, and we won’t give in to threats and intimidation. We will fight for healthcare equity for all people, every day. We are already mobilizing our millions of nationwide supporters. We’re going to fight back against attacks and continue to drive forward.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.