Nations Pledge Millions for Family Plan

BRUSSELS (AP) -- Nations pledged tens of millions of dollars for family planning programs Thursday at an international conference in Brussels to make up for the gap left by President Donald Trump's ban on U.S. funding to groups linked to abortion.

Some 50 governments attended the hastily convened one-day conference. Early on, total pledges were already exceeding 100 million dollars, with Sweden, Canada and Finland each promising 20 million euros ($21 million).

One of Trump's first acts as president was to withhold an estimated half a 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 fund something it considers morally wrong.

Officials in many European nations and around the world say Trump's move against family planning will only increase the overall number of abortions and will hurt the women and girls who need it the most.

"The purely ideological decision of one country" can push women and girls back "into the Dark Ages," said conference host Belgian Deputy Premier Alexander De Croo.

"We will start 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. African and Asian countries are also 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."

The conference stressed that abortion was only a small part of family planning in developing nations. It emphasized the need for more sex education and more availability of contraceptives and warned about the dangers of sexually related diseases and of female genital mutilation. It also backed sexual rights, so women and girls can stand up for the inviolability of their bodies.

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 instead of decreasing abortions, the move would increase the number of dangerous pregnancy terminations. They said when the U.S. 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."