President Trump's first week in office is marked by three decisions that amplify strong divides within American society and abroad and do not show any sign of reconciliation or trying to be President-to-all-Americans. The signing of contracts to finish the wall between the US and Mexico was the most obvious one. The second one concerned the barring of refugees from a number of Muslim-countries, while making exceptions for Christians. This decision will inflict even more hatred on Christians in those countries and also degrades Muslims in the US to secondary citizens. In this blog I want to talk about a third decision creating divisions which invoked a response from my country. It was the curtailing of funding for pro-abortion agencies, which potentially impacts a much broader array of reproductive health services that also pro-life activists would support and are currently enjoyed by many women world-wide.
In a response to Trump's decision, our Dutch Minister of Aid and Trade Lilianne Ploumen launched a crowdfunding initiative. The fund named "She Decides" is set-up as a new Public-Private Partnership with Rutgers, a Dutch agency specialised in Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights. It aims to compensate various US based organizations for the funding cuts and Ploumen called on other governments, companies and citizens to join her plight. Her Belgian colleague already joined her initiative.
Despite broad public support for her action, some Dutch NGO staff received her move with mixed feelings. Dutch NGOs, have themselves faced serious budget cuts with the Dutch government for years not meeting their international commitment on ODA and becoming an unreliable partner in that regard. Secondly, the Dutch co-financing system already opened up to American organizations, in particular in the field of reproductive health care programming. Organizations that will be supported by the new fund, already receive substantial contributions from the Dutch tax payers.
Government as fund raiser
The initiative is also a novice for public resource mobilization. Rather than utilizing the domestic tax base and subsequently spending it in the interests of all, with government oversight and parliamentary control, the Minister now joins the fund raising in a more direct manner: collecting funds from individuals and companies in a public-private partnership with an NGO that supports her agenda. This is one step further than the strategic partnerships thus far concluded, where dialogue and dissent were both possible and permitable and even part of the strategy. As resources may come from various corners (governmental and non-governmental) for the spending of the funds as a Minister she no longer is answerable to the parliament only. This is a new situation.
Safe pregnancies as an alternative for safe abortions
The international press referred to the initiative of Ploumen as an 'abortion fund', which signals the political meaning of it. I hope in its utilization the fund will provide for better than abortion services. There is much agreement on the need to reduce the number of un-safe abortions given the number of women whose lives are seriously impacted by it. However, any abortion (safe or un-safe) stops the development of a unique creature and infringes upon the right to life for the unborn child, who already have an identity as many fathers and mothers will bear witness to.
Secondly, unless complemented with other measures (like proper sexuality education and women empowerment domestically and at the workplace) a clinical approach to sexual health does not address some of the root causes. In many countries where abortion services are promoted as a solution for women's health and as a birth control measure, protection issues may receive less attention. Women do continue to face sexual harassment, abuse and discrimination at home and in the workplace. The availability of a cheap 'solution' in case of pregnancies only aggravates this situation. She definately should decide on whether or not she wants sex or wants to be pregnant and therefore needs to be informed about her sexual rights and health issues involved. However, after conception, she should not be left alone with the difficult choice to either have the child or 'dispose' the foetus and face the psychlogical consequences. The abrupt ending of new life in the supposedly safest place on earth should be subject of a healthy societal debate where men take responsibility for their actions rather than walking away from it. I would therefore argue for the need to create conditions for safe pregnancies, where women are well protected at their workplace and at home while empowered to make their own choices with regard to sexuality and family planning.
March for women and life
The day after Trump was sworn in as president many women made their way to the squares in Washington to show their support for women world-wide. Few days later, pro-life activists did the same. If only the March for Women and the March for Life in America were held together in favour of reproductive health and rights of women. It would provide the counter narrative against a divisionist approach of governance currently pursued by the American President. It will be important to listen carefully to the women already in power, like Theresa May and Angela Merkel showing remarkable leadership in this time of insecurity and instability. Also Mrs. Ploumen's initiative may be welcomed as a piece of healthy global counter-vailing power, hopefully demanding a more holistic approach with due attention to sexuality education and emancipation of women and sexual minorities. Hope in the coming years more women will be elected in office in various countries which would definately help to further this cause.
“I have long believed that a society can be judged by how we care for our most vulnerable:
My name is Reinier van Hoffen.
Click here for a summary.
Also find the text of a lecture Dr. Achterhuis held at the 2012 Bilderberg conference.