Abortion activists are working covertly to undermine a Trump administration policy that defunds international pro-abortion groups, according to a revealing new report at BuzzFeed News.
The group, created in 2016 when President Donald Trump signed the Mexico City policy, is made up of about 20 lawyers and two pro-abortion groups, the Center for Health and Gender Equality (CHANGE) and the Center for Reproductive Rights. They said they meet quarterly in Washington, D.C. to “mitigate the harm” of the policy, which prohibits taxpayer funding to international groups that promote or provide abortions.
None of the lawyers are named in the report, though the report says many represent U.S.-based non-governmental organizations (NGOs) at the United Nations. They asked not to be named to “avoid the scrutiny” of the U.S. government as well as pro-life groups.
“The fact that it is operating below the radar is important,” CHANGE president Serra Sippel told the liberal news outlet. “They wouldn’t be able to do the work they’re doing otherwise.”
Here’s more from the report:
The chief concern of the group, four of the members told BuzzFeed News, is making sure organizations in countries that rely on US aid funding to provide health care are not “over-complying” with the Mexico City Policy, meaning ending programs related to family planning that are not technically in violation of the policy out of a fear of the US cutting their funding — a phenomenon advocates refer to as “the chilling effect.”
Since Trump signed and expanded the Mexico City policy, abortion activists have been complaining loudly about how it could drastically damage the health care services provided overseas. In February, however, the Trump administration released numbers indicating that just four of the more than 700 groups that provide foreign aid with U.S. tax dollars refused to comply with the new policy. They included Marie Stopes International and the International Planned Parenthood Federation, two of the largest abortion providers in the world.
The secret group’s members said they work to make sure groups can still qualify for funding under the policy. For example, they lobbied for a loophole that allows some pro-abortion groups to continue to receive Americans’ tax dollars.
The report continues:
Trump announced the policy during his first week in office, but it wasn’t officially implemented until May, 2017. Between the announcement and implementation, the working group quickly realized that because of Trump’s planned expansion of the rule, organizations in countries with laws that require health providers to counsel patients on abortion options and refer them for the procedure (which the Mexico City Policy considers “active promotion” of abortion as family planning) could end up in a catch-22 of having to choose between losing US funding and breaking local laws.
The most notable example of this was in South Africa, the country with the largest epidemic of people living with HIV/AIDS, which receives some of the most US funding for combatting the virus.
So, members of the working group drafted a memo laying this out, had one-on-one conversations with Trump administration officials, and spread the word to fellow NGOs, Sippel and another lawyer in the working group said. When the rule was announced in May, it included a new exception for organizations operating in countries whose local laws contradicted the requirements of the policy.
Sippel called the inclusion of the exception the working group’s “big success story.”
According to the pro-life group C-Fam, the Trump administration is not sitting back and doing nothing about these loopholes; but career employees in the State Department are “fiercely resisting” their attempts.
Members of the pro-abortion group are working in other ways, too. They said they are considering a lawsuit that would challenge the pro-life policy.
They emphasized to the news outlet the importance of being a secret group, but they also claimed they are working within the rules and really just “helping the administration clarify its own policy.”
“We are trying to clarify ambiguities and promote reasonable, good faith interpretations of this rule in a highly politicized environment,” one unnamed member of the group said. “We’re just trying to implement it … in a way that receives the least amount of negative attention.”
But if that really is all they are doing, why hide?