In new twist to the growing controversy over President Bush’s interference with the health care of women in other nations, the European Union and member states indicate that they may step in and substitute for the cuts in U.S. family planning aid.
President George W. Bush re-imposed the so-called global gag rule January 22 banning health agencies abroad that receive U.S. family planning funds from counseling women about abortion and lobbying for abortion law reform.
In response, Poul Nielson, European Commissioner for Development, Co-operation and Humanitarian Aid, during a recent World Bank conference in London, announced that indeed the European Union could find the funds to replace the U.S. aid and fill what he termed the “decency gap.” The European Commission is the executive body of the EU.
Nielson proposed to compensate for cuts in U.S. funding because he is concerned about women’s health, rights and reducing the number of abortions.
“He considers that counseling, informing about options, these are things that will lead to a reduction of the number of abortions, rather than increase the number of abortions,” said Kristian Schmidt, a member of Nielson’s cabinet. Commissioner Nielson thinks abortion is a thing to avoid, but you don’t avoid it by forcing organizations working in the field to not inform their patients about it.
In addition two EU member states, Denmark and the Netherlands, declared publicly that they were also willing to contribute funds.
The exact amount of the shortfall is not yet known. Congress set aside $425 million to give to international family planning groups. The U.S. Agency for International Development has not yet determined which clinics and agencies will reject that funding.
Exactly how the Europeans would make up the shortfall remains unclear. The Swedish government, which currently holds the rotating, six-month presidency of the European Union, is now assessing the consequences of Bush’s decision in order to determine the course of action, said Bjorn Andersson, desk officer at the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Stockholm.
Even though the European Commission, Denmark and the Netherlands would favor a coordinated response by the 15 member states, actions by individual countries might be another option, said Michael Curtis, spokesman for Development Co-operation and Humanitarian Aid at the European Commission in Brussels.
Europe’s Response Still in Planning Stages
The European Commission is already funding family planning projects abroad, and Nielson could decide to increase these funds, Curtis said in a telephone interview. However, the commission itself probably wouldn’t be able to fill the whole gap, partly because of the large amount needed and because it is only allowed to finance projects.
“We are not allowed to give grants or subsidies to the running costs of these [family-planning] organizations. So maybe, if that’s where they need money, the member states can finance running cost and the commission can finance projects. It’s just a hypothesis at this moment, but that’s one possibility,” Curtis said.