BRUSSELS (AP) — Nations started pledging tens of millions of dollars Thursday at an international family planning conference in Brussels aimed at making up for a gap left by President Donald Trump's ban on U.S. funding to groups linked to abortion.
Some 50 governments are attending the hastily convened one-day conference. Early on, total pledges were already closing in on 100 million dollars, with Sweden and Finland each promising some 20 million euros ($21 million dollars.)
One of Trump's first acts as president was to withhold an estimated half billion dollars a year in funding from international groups that perform abortions or provide information about them. The Trump administration said the ban is necessary because it doesn't want to provide funds for something it considers morally wrong. Officials in many European nations and around the world say the move will hurt women and girls who need family planning most.
"The purely ideological decision of one country" can push women and girls back "into the dark Ages," said conference host and Belgian Deputy Premier Alexander De Croos.
"We will start with making something great again," he said of the drive to boost family planning policies in developing nations, riffing off Trump's "make America great again" campaign slogan.
Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands had already committed to contributions of at least 10 million euros each. Canada, African and Asian countries will also be at the conference, as well as officials from the European Union and the United Nations. Philanthropists and private donors will be asked to contribute as well.
Finnish Development Minister Kai Mykkanen said the U.S moves "threaten to suspend a large number of projects helping to defend the health of millions of girls, even helping to save their lives. We respond to the situation fraught with distress by investing in the improvement of women's and girls' rights even more than before."
U.S. bans on funding international groups that perform or even talk about abortions have been instituted by Republican administrations and rescinded by Democratic ones since 1984. Former President Barack Obama last lifted it in 2009. But under Trump, the ban has been massively expanded.
Participants said that instead of decreasing abortions, the move would increase dangerous pregnancy terminations. They said that when bans were in place, the number of involuntarily pregnancies and abortions increased.
"The number of abortions will not fall, they will rise," because of an increase in unwanted pregnancies, said Dutch Development Minister Lilianne Ploumen.
De Croo insisted that he was not defending abortion.
"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."