50 nations seek to counter US ban on family planning funds

BRUSSELS — Some 50 countries have signed up to attend a family planning conference in Brussels aimed at making up the gap left by President Donald Trump's ban on U.S. funding to groups linked to abortion, organizers said Wednesday.

The participants agreed to attend the conference scheduled for Thursday on short notice and will discuss using pledges from other nations and the private sector to "make sure that the impact on the field is completely taken away," Belgian Vice Premier Alexander De Croo said.

"This should not be a moment where we are taking steps back into the Dark Ages for women and girls," De Croo said.

Trump's decision, one of his first acts as president, withholds about half a billion dollars a year from international groups that perform abortions or provide information about abortions. Officials in many European nations and around the world say the move will hurt women and girls who need family planning most.

"This is 50 countries saying, 'Let's roll up our sleeves and let's stand for the values we think are important,'" De Croo said.

Belgium and several other countries already have committed to contributing at least 10 million euros each. Beyond governments, philanthropists and private donors will be asked to contribute at the conference.

Outside of many European nations, Canada, African and Asian countries will also have representatives at the conference, as will the European Union and the United Nations.

Swedish Vice Premier Isabella Lovin told the AP that even though maternal mortality rates have declined by almost half in the last generation, "every second minute a woman or a girl dies in the world due to pregnancy."

"The important thing now is what we can do as a progressive alliance of countries and organizations that want to do more and to make sure that we do not (go) back on progress that has been done," Lovin said.

The U.S. ban on funding to organizations that perform abortions or discuss the procedure with clients has been instituted by Republican administrations and rescinded by Democratic ones since 1984.

Former President Barack Obama last lifted it in 2009. But Trump significantly expanded it in an executive order he signed on his first full day in office.

Instead of containing abortions, the move would increase dangerous pregnancy terminations, Lovin and De Croo said.

De Croo insisted that he was not putting up a defense of abortion, per se.

"To be clear, any abortion that takes place is one too many," he said. "But if it has to take place, then I think it should be available, and it should be available in a safe way."

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