UK Abortion Policy – Internationally
In 2015, the United Nations (UN) agreed the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which created a framework to determine the priorities for international development until 2030. There are 17 goals which have the aim of combining economic development targets with human rights. The objectives include the aims of ending extreme poverty and protecting the environment, but also some more controversial objectives. Goal 3’s objective is to “ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing at all ages”. This is interpreted by the UN to include an emphasis on promoting “sexual and reproductive health and rights”.
Although there is a need for resources and action to improve maternal health in developing countries, some groups within the UN system and in the wider non-governmental community are pushing for abortion services to be expanded in developing countries. Lobbying for this purpose by Western Governments, UN agencies and some Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) is intense. The interpretation of the term “sexual and reproductive health and rights” to include abortion is being promoted by the EU and some Western countries. However, this view is controversial and there is no international consensus that abortion should be included in this term. No human right of access to abortion has ever been recognised in international law and the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in 1994 concluded that abortion should not be used as a form of family planning.
The UK Government, through the Department for International Development (DFID), is a major funder of family planning services in developing countries. DFID funds staff training, drugs and equipment to facilitate ‘safe abortions’ in developing countries. In 2016/17, DFID spent £334.9m on population control, abortion and reproductive health and rights. This money could be redirected to be spent on reducing maternal mortality through the provision of skilled birth attendants and on neo-natal care. DFID is a major funder of NGOs such as the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) and Marie Stopes International (MSI) which promote ‘reproductive rights’ and provide abortion services in developing countries. In 2016, DFID’s funding of MSI totalled £44.5m. DFID funding is also used to support foreign NGOs which run advocacy campaigns for legislative change in countries where laws exist which restrict abortion.
The new United States Government recently reintroduced the Mexico City Policy which bans US Federal Government money from being used to fund foreign NGOs that provide support for abortions. The US Government plans to divert the money saved into other maternal health programmes, including family planning services which do not include abortion services. In response to this, some European Governments launched the ‘She Decides’ initiative which seeks to fill the funding gap created by the US withdrawal of funding. There have been pledges to fund the ‘She Decides’ campaign amounting to around $200m. The UK Government declined to contribute any additional financial resources via this fund as DFID is already donates considerable sums for family planning and abortion provision in developing countries.
Recently the US Government also decided to stop funding the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Although the UNFPA claims that it does not fund abortions, the US Administration has concerns that the UNFPA is partnering with organisations which have been involved in the Chinese Government’s forced sterilisation, compulsory abortion and mandatory pregnancy testing programmes. In 2015, the UK Government was the UNFPA’s largest donor. It contributed $199.3m (around £137m) to the UNFPA that year. This was far more than the US Government’s contribution which amounted to only $75.8m (around £52.2m) in 2015.
During this Parliament, the issue of DFID funding of abortions overseas has been raised a number of times. Just before Parliament was dissolved for the General Election, Fiona Bruce MP asked a Parliamentary Question about whether UK Aid money is being used to fund abortions in countries where abortion is illegal. In March 2017, an Early Day Motion was tabled by David Amess MP which noted the large sums of money being spent by DFID on family planning and abortion and stated that it would be “unnecessary and imprudent to commit more Government spending and increase the UK’s contribution to abortion overseas at a time when other domestic budgets are being cut”.
Questions for Candidates
1. If elected, would you vote to prohibit the funding of abortions in developing countries through the UK’s overseas aid programme and redirect this money to improve basic maternal health care?
2. Do you consider the controversial term ‘sexual and reproductive health and rights’ to include the provision of abortion services?
3. Should the UK Government be funding advocacy campaigns for legislative reform in countries with restrictive laws on abortion?