US toughens policy against foreign NGOs that back abortions

Washington (AFP) –


The administration of US President Donald Trump on Tuesday again toughened a ban on the use of taxpayer money to support abortion overseas as it pulled funding from a human rights body that supports the procedure's legalization in Latin America.

After he came to power in 2017, Trump restored and expanded a policy first announced by then president Ronald Reagan in 1984 at an international conference in Mexico City.

Since then, Democratic presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama promptly scrapped the rule and Republican ones have reinstituted it.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced a new tightening of the policy, saying the United States would refuse assistance to non-government organizations that in turn support other NGOs that are part of what he called the "global abortion industry."

"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," Pompeo, an evangelical Christian popular with conservatives, told reporters.

In a first act, State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said the administration would withhold $210,000 due in 2019 funds to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, part of the Organization of American States (OAS) which covers the Western Hemisphere.

The commission in a 2017 report urged for legalized abortion across Latin America, where the procedure is heavily restricted in many countries, saying that unsafe abortions have contributed to poverty and high maternal mortality and that the region's women face a climate of impunity on sexual violence.

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

He vowed that the administration "will do all we can to safeguard US taxpayer dollars and protect and respect the sanctity of life for people all around the globe."

Groups that back legal abortion call the Mexico City policy a "gag rule" and say that it only leads women to dangerous, back-alley operations to end pregnancies.

"By once again expanding the global gag rule, the Trump administration is taking a deadly policy and making it worse," said Shannon Kowalski, director of advocacy and policy at the International Women's Health Coalition.

Abortion is highly polarizing in the United States, with much of Trump's conservative Christian base considering the issue its top electoral priority.