NEW YORK ― Days after Melania Trump presented courage awards to 13 women working for gender equity around the globe, President Donald Trump’s administration halted all U.S. grants to the United Nations Population Fund, an international humanitarian aid organization that provides reproductive health care and works to end child marriage and female genital cutting in more than 150 countries.
The State Department invoked the 1985 Kemp-Kasten Amendment, which he said will ensure that “U.S. taxpayer dollars do not fund organizations or programs that support or participate in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization.” President George W. Bush used the same policy to defund the UNFPA from 2002 to 2008, arguing that the organization’s presence in China constituted participation in the country’s “one child” coercive family planning policy.
The UNFPA does not provide or promote abortions. The organization works in China to make reproductive health program voluntary and rights-based and has advocated against the country’s one-child policy. The Trump administration did not explain exactly how it determined that the UNFPA violated any U.S. law.
“The UNFPA no longer provides any financial support to the Chinese government to support its family planning program. Not a dollar,” said Peter Yeo, vice president of public policy at the United Nations Foundation. “So I’m not quite frankly sure how you make this Kemp-Kasten determination with a straight face.”
Trump’s move will pull $76 million from the UNFPA ― about 7 percent of its budget. In 2016, the funding provided access to contraceptives to 800,000 people around the world and prevented an estimated 100,000 unsafe abortions and 10,000 maternal deaths, according to the organization. At the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, for instance, UNFPA-supported health providers have managed to deliver more than 7,000 babies without a single maternal death.
“If our problem is with the Chinese government’s policies, why are we taking it out on an organization providing basic reproductive health care in 149 other countries? How is that helping anyone?” said Brian Dixon, a spokesperson for the Population Connection Action Fund. “It’s not doing anything to punish the Chinese government, but it’s hurting women and families around the world.”
This is not Trump’s first move to hamper international family planning efforts. Earlier this year, he reinstated the Global Gag Rule, a federal ban on U.S. funding for any international health organization that even counsels women on safe abortions. The rule affects $9.5 billion in U.S. global health funding to organizations working on AIDS, malaria, and maternal and child health.
“Advocates from around the world will not stand idly by as Trump and his administration attempt to reverse decades of progress in reproductive health and rights,” said Serra Sippel, president of the Center for Health and Gender Equity. “Trump’s refusal to invest in strong, healthy, and empowered women and girls will jeopardize families, dismantle communities, and will kill women.”