Viewpoint: Pro-life concern over Ireland's aid policy

  • Matt Moran

The Irish government has launched - A Better World - as its new overseas aid policy to be administered by Irish Aid. The policy reminds us that "improving the quality and availability of health services with a strong focus on maternal and child health has been a long-standing component of our development cooperation".

That focus was initiated by Irish missionaries in the 1950s many of whom established hospitals, health clinics, and care facilities. The government has always claimed that Ireland's overseas aid programme was modelled on the pioneering work of our missionaries over many decades … work that continues 'til this day.

A departure in the new policy announced last week is the promotion and funding of abortion in developing countries, particularly in Africa and Vietnam where Irish Aid spends most of its taxpayers' funds. The policy states: "We will launch a new initiative around sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), incorporating our partnerships for health and HIV and AIDS". It says that the "new initiative will be an important means of revitalising and reorganising our approach and priorities.

The term "sexual and reproductive health" has become a ubiquitous term used by the international abortion lobby and by some senior pro-abortion officials within the UN to legitimise and normalise abortion as a staple of international health policy. The Irish government constantly describes abortion or the termination of the life of a baby in the womb as a "health service". It is offering it free of charge in a public health service that is crackling at the seams with the highest ever number of people on waiting lists and the highest ever number of patients on trolleys in hospitals. Patients requiring standard eye treatment have to travel to Belfast for it.

The aid policy takes pride in declaring that "Ireland also has a story to tell. The legal and constitutional process, the role of grassroots campaigns and civil society, the history of societal change and the ongoing issues around the operation of the health system towards the realisation of rights and women's health will inform our foreign and development policy on these issues".

Irish pro-life groups and citizens who understand the political and national media bias in the campaign for abortion in Ireland, the lack of transparency, the de-humanisation of the baby or foetus, government dishonesty in what was promised vs the legislation that was delivered - some of it cruel in the extreme - are alarmed that that is the "story" that Irish Aid plans to deliver in Africa. That approach has the potential to become a major divisive factor for Ireland's overseas aid programme.

Commenting on the new policy, Eilís Mulroy of the Pro-Life Campaign said it is both "paternalistic and imperialistic for our government to adopt an attitude that western countries know what's best for developing countries …. What Ireland should be concerned with is improving maternal healthcare at home and abroad so that women and their unborn babies can both thrive. Instead our government is joining forces with the most radical international pro-abortion organisations who seek to impose their worldview of pushing abortion at every turn while neglecting to put in place genuine programmes that would safeguard the lives of both mother and baby during pregnancy."

There is no evidence of African countries calling out for abortion. Indeed, most of them either reject it or they restrict it in line with their culture and family values. They have resisted interference from the outside. And, that interference is quite strong from donor nations who want to change African culture and values through a new form of colonisation.

In July 2017, Carin Jämtin, Director General of SIDA - Sweden's overseas aid agency - declared: "We have to defend [sexual and reproductive health and rights] and the right to abortion for girls and women in poor countries …". When the Trump administration stopped USAID funds being used to finance abortion in Africa, the Dutch Minister of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, Lilianne Ploumen, set about establishing a new fund via NGO - She Decides - with a €10m donation. Her objective was to get a number of governments to replace the US funding to ensure the continued funding of abortion. Belgium and Denmark responded immediately with similar donations to be followed by Sweden, Finland, Canada and Luxembourg.

At the same time, Priti Patel, then UK Secretary of State for International Development, announced that Britain would increase spending on overseas family planning services, including "safe abortions" to £1,125 billion (€1,275bn) over the next five years.

Western governments are "spitting in the face" of African democracy by trying to impose legal abortion against the wishes of most of the people in those countries according to Uju Ekeocha, a Nigerian pro-life campaigner and the founder of Culture of Life Africa. "There is the increasing number of well-funded foreign abortion lobbyists who are tirelessly pushing and prodding African leaders towards legalised abortion" she says.

Wealthy nations pumping money into the promotion and funding of abortions in Africa are behaving like "old colonial masters" she says. "In all my work with African countries, I don't know of any which is screaming, 'come and help us, we have this abortion crisis'". These nations see abortion as a perversion of human rights. They recognise that the UN General Assembly never agreed that abortion is a human right contrary by the on-going attempts by the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva to normalise it as a human right.

Uju points out that since President Trump withdrew US funding for abortion in Africa, Canada is now at the forefront of exporting abortion overseas. "Canada has taken that position as the number one cultural colonial master in the world" she said. "They need to go back to the integral care of the person, where they think of the Africans not as people whom they can colonise culturally and impose their new views and values on them, but as a people who have their own views and values. What Africans want more than anything is for women to give birth safely ... in a lot of these countries they can't even get the most basic health care."

In recent years, African countries have, with encouragement and support from the US administration, been finding their voice at the UN to push back against governments in Europe and Canada who want to impose abortion globally. Now, Ireland will join these European governments in this ideological colonisation using taxpayers' money.

What is unclear as yet is, will Irish Aid make it a condition of its funding to faith-based NGOs and missionary groups that they must provide abortion in funded development projects and programmes such as hospitals and health clinics throughout Africa. Two congregations have told me that if that becomes a condition, they will cease accepting Irish public funding and will seek finance elsewhere for such projects.

The WHO estimates that 30% - 70% of all health care in Africa is provided by faith-based organisations (FBOs) and the churches. In some areas, faith-based hospitals and clinics are the only ones there, and are encouraged and supported by government agencies. It is not unusual to find state-paid employees working in some of these centres which command very high reputations and are sought out by patients for their preferred quality of service and holistic care. They are commonly called "mission hospitals".

Will Irish Aid sacrifice these high performing hospitals and clinics that they have supported for decades? Will the Irish Government impose a policy that is in line with emerging thinking around religious run hospitals in Ireland that are in receipt of public funding? That is unlikely because it would be very divisive and cause serious damage to the reputation of Ireland's overseas aid programme nationally and internationally. That programme depends on goodwill and public support, especially at this time when funding demands domestically are at an all-time high especially in health, housing, education and special needs services.

There are very significant precedents for UN organisations to recognise and respect the faith values of partners delivering essential services like health and education. For example in 2011, UNAIDS agreed a strategic framework with FBOs for the provision of services for HIV / AIDS. That framework includes mutual respect for each other's positions, and recognises that the faith of FBOs is fundamental to their values and their activities.

It is widely recognised that FBOs through their unique networks and structures, plus the respect which they enjoy, have un-rivalled access and acceptance by local leaders and poor or marginalised communities. Additionally, and importantly as we know from our Irish missionaries, their services are available to all irrespective of race or creed.

The UNHCR has a partnership agreement with FBOs that does not impose conditions that would conflict with their faith values and ethos in the provision of services for refugees. UNICEF goes even further in acknowledging the benefits of religion and spirituality as a "profound influence on children's development". Its approach is to focus on the shared values of each partner and not to undermine faith values. After working for many years at the UN in New York, a Mercy nun from Derry, Sr. Deirdre Mullen, now works with UNICEF forging and strengthening collaborative relationships with FBOs.

In my book - The Legacy of Irish Missionaries Lives On - I devoted a full chapter to the role of faith in international development. That role is increasing in importance. For example, in 2016, Germany with support from the UK, Sweden, the USA, the UN, and the World Bank set up the International Partnership on Religion and Sustainable Development (PaRD) to develop common ideas on how to improve practical cooperation with faith communities.

Will Irish Aid choose collaboration with FBOs and missionary groups in a way that respects their faith values around abortion and the termination of the lives of unborn babies in Africa and the global south? Will FBOs and missionary groups remain happy to be associated with Irish Aid and its new policy on the promotion and funding of abortion in those regions of the world? Will the new policy of Irish aid on abortion be divisive and damage the reputation of Ireland's overseas aid programme both domestically and in African countries where a pro-life culture is strong? Will Ireland be seen in Africa as an ideological coloniser trying to change local culture and family values?

(Matt Moran writes about the work of Irish missionaries, and is author of book - The Legacy of Irish Missionaries Lives On - available from He was Chairman of the Board of Misean Cara which distributes Irish Aid funding to support mission development projects in developing countries)

Tags: Abortion, Ireland, Overseas Aid, Matt Moran

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