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EU budget row over family planning aid

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eu flagHow can you reduce maternal mortality by cutting contraceptive access and proper obstetric care?

The 7-8 February EU budget summit this year saw the European Union’s budget cut for the first time in its 56-year history.

During the controversy over which areas of the budget to cut, Conservative MEPs have specifically been pushing for cuts in the EU’s financial contributions toward family planning services in developing nations.

The Guardian reported that “the relatively small sum for sexual and reproductive health fuels an outsized debate over how European money is spent”.

Although aid accounts for only 5.47 per cent of EU spending  – or €0.32 per person per week – it is facing a cut of 12 per cent, whereas other much larger areas of the budget are facing a cut of only 5 per cent.

While the fiscal crisis may mean that allocating EU funds to foreign beneficiaries is a particularly sensitive issue, it appears that the controversy has its roots in a much more polarising debate – abortion access.

Those who object to EU money being spent on family planning advice in the developing world do so on grounds that the money will go towards funding abortion.

Anti-abortion campaigners in Italy have been collecting signatures for a European Citizens’ Initiative to ban the use of EU money for abortion at home or abroad.

And closer to home, British Conservative MEP Nirj Deva, vice-chairman of the European Parliament’s development committee, said: “I will not allow, and tolerate, the idea that you can improve development parameters by killing children to keep the population under control.”

However, Britain’s Department for International Development did declare in 2009 that it supports access to safe abortion for women worldwide.

Portuguese MEP Ana Gomes has vowed to fight any cuts to reproductive health funding.

With 800 women dying worldwide every day from maternal complications, including the consequences of unsafe abortion, reproductive health initiatives in developing countries are crucial.

One of the UN Family Planning Association’s goals is to reduce maternal mortality by 75 per cent by ensuring contraceptive access for all women and proper obstetric care.

Yet with the EU funding that goes towards family planning services already cut from €234 million in 2007 to €150 million in 2012, further cuts are likely to see this goal missed.

Something opponents fail to acknowledge is that preventing access to legal abortion does nothing to decrease the amount of abortions taking place – it simply means women will seek unsafe abortions from unregulated providers.

The Guttmacher Institute reports that: “Virtually all … unsafe abortions take place in the developing world, where the unmet need for contraception remains high and very restrictive abortion laws often are the norm.”

The USA is no stranger to this issue, having witnessed the back-and-forth of the ‘Global Gag rule’.

This piece of legislation effectively forbids US funding reproductive health organisations in the Third World if they have any involvement in abortion provision.

Introduced in 1984 by the Reagan government, the rule has been repealed every time a Democrat government has taken office, and reinstated every time the Republicans have won an election.

Director General of Planned Parenthood Dr Gill Greer said that “The gag has done immense harm … it has undermined health systems and endangered the lives and health of some of the most vulnerable women on the planet”.

One of Barack Obama’s first actions after taking office in 2008 was to repeal it.

So why are some EU politicians trying to push for a clearly harmful policy – and endanger the lives and health of some of the most vulnerable women on the planet?

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