“Together, we must declare that the era of allowing brutality against women and children is over.” The words of First Lady Melania Trump earlier this week sounded somewhat jarring next to the incongruous actions of her husband. In his ongoing crusade to suppress women’s rights, this week President Trump axed all US funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). A UN-affiliated organization, the UNFPA provides reproductive health care assistance and counselling regarding family planning to more than 80% of the world’s population, in over 150 countries. Based on unsubstantiated claims that the UNFPA promotes and practices coercive abortion and involuntary sterilization in partnership with Chinese governance, Trump has enacted the Kemp-Kasten amendment, an article which prohibits foreign aid to organizations implicated in precisely these two acts.
First enacted in 1985 by Ronald Reagan, interpretation of the ambiguous wording of the Kemp-Kasten amendment is left to the discretion of the administration. Using the amendment to legitimize his contentious political stance, Trump determined that “by implementing a portion of its family planning program in partnership with [the Chinese government], UNFPA provides support for the NHFPC’s implementation of China’s family planning policies, which includes coercive elements.” Refuting these as “erroneous claims,” the UNFPA responded to the assertions made by Trump’s administration with a statement arguing that “its work promotes the human rights of individuals and couples to make their own decisions, free of coercion or discrimination.”
As one of the largest contributors to the UNFPA, the ramifications of such severe cuts by the US will cost lives. The UNFPA reports that the support of US funding in 2016, estimated at $69m, enabled the organization to save the lives of 2,340 women from dying during pregnancy and childbirth, prevent 947,000 unintended pregnancies and 295,000 unsafe abortions, and ensure 1,251 fistula surgeries. In a statement on Monday, UN Foundation President and CEO, Kathy Calvin, said that “eliminating US funds threatens the health and rights of millions of girls and women around the world, particularly those in crisis situations.” Indeed, cuts such as these will solely exacerbate global instability. At present, 27 UNFPA projects, totaling almost $23m, are currently being supported by the US, thus throwing into question the damaging repercussions that the funding cuts will have on those both running and receiving the aid.
Abortion has plagued contemporary US politics with increasing interest since the primaries last year. A polarizing issue, abortion spans a number of subjective and politically volatile topics such as ethics, religion, morality, and human rights. Trump, having previously oscillated between pro-life and pro-choice, is pedaling a decidedly pro-life ideology and one which is serving to threaten the lives of women and girls globally. By withdrawing funding from the UNFPA, Trump is, in effect, denying the safety and critical needs of millions of women, with the World Health Organization estimating that over 21 million women undergo unsafe abortions in developing countries annually.
Contributing to an already dismaying start to 2017 for women’s rights, the enacting of this amendment follows Trump’s “global gag rule,” a newly-instated executive order which prohibits the US funding of international non-governmental organizations which not only provide abortion aid, but also those which provide counseling on reproductive health. Further provoking outrage amongst women’s rights advocates this week was the disclosure that £250,000 of the 2016 “tampon tax” in Britain will be given to Life, an anti-abortion charity which manages a number of unregulated counsel centres. To quote columnist, Suzanne Moore, “women have no choice about having periods. To give tax raised on sanitary products to a group that seeks to limit their choice further is unconscionable.”
Organizations such as the UNFPA are vital in developing a world in which women and girls are empowered and their rights to safety, education, and prosperity are equal to their male counterparts. Significantly, the UNFPA asserts that it neither funds nor performs abortions; rather, it offers a voluntary service to help those in need. The question begs, therefore: why is Trump ardent on preventing this? Why is Trump content to jeopardize the lives of so many women and girls? In failing to foreground the physical and mental well-being of those whom he is implicating, not only can Trump’s integrity be challenged, but the overwhelming irony of his pro-life agenda is exposed. Given the harm and death that is likely to result from Trump’s decision to deny millions the access to safe reproductive health aid, the very concept of “life” is undermined, all the while at the expense of marginalized women.