Philippa Taylor

Is British aid money being spent on funding illegal abortions?

Philippa Taylor was Head of Public Policy at CMF until September 2019 and now works with CARE. She has an MA in Bioethics from St Mary’s University College and a background in policy work on bioethics and family issues.
The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of CMF.

Soon after authorities in Kenya banned Marie Stopes Kenya from carrying out abortions in Kenya, Niger also ordered the closure of some centres run by Marie Stopes International (MSI) on the grounds that MSI was illegally performing abortions there.

Kenya and Niger are not the first countries to become victims of the abortion giant.

In 2012, it was found that MSI had carried out more than 500 illegal abortions  in Zambia for social reasons, or simply because the pregnancy was unwanted. Even in the UK MSI have been strongly criticised for its working practices in some abortion clinics, with incentives for staff to do abortions, major safety flaws and thousands of serious incidents reported.

In Kenya, the problems came to light when the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Board (KMPDB) noted that Marie Stopes was advertising abortion services, despite a prohibition on all abortion advertising. Earlier this year, the Kenya Films Classification Board asserted that Marie Stopes adverts were promoting abortion, which is against the Kenyan Constitution. It observed that such advertising ‘targets teenage girls by giving them alternatives for unwanted or unplanned pregnancies’ and it demanded a public apology from Marie Stopes.

It is not yet clear exactly what has happened in Niger except that they have apparently been performing illegal abortions there.

This is of direct concern to the UK as we spend millions in taxpayers’ money via the Department for International Development (DFID) on MSI, including one specific contract covering MSI working in Kenya, worth worth £8.2 million  as well as  in other countries. MSI’s work in Niger is already funded as part of DIFD’s ongoing programmes and is to be part of the new £200 million   ‘Women’s Integrated Sexual Health’ (WISH) programme

DFID have stated that no UK money is being used to fund illegal abortions in Kenya. However, given the clear monetary link between DFID and MSI, , the lack of any transparency from DFID over what UK taxpayers’ money is actually being spent on, and knowing that abortion provision is at the heart of MSI’s work, it is difficult to be reassured by this statement. It certainly does not reassure over the situation in Niger.

Any claim that Marie Stopes Kenya (MSK) does not receive DFID funding for its clinics is technically correct. However, Marie Stopes International working IN Kenya does receive DFID funding. And millions of it: see these official contracts between DFID and MSI in Kenya here, here and here  Moreover MSK is a wholly owned subsidiary of MSI!

Whether or not UK funding goes direct to MSK or MSI in Kenya, the point is that our taxpayer money is being given to an abortion giant that has been accused of breaking laws in at least three of the countries that it works in (excluding the UK). DFID funds were £44 million, out of MSI’s total budget of £296 million.. There is very little transparency in ensuring DFID money is not used to fund illegal advertising or abortions, and very little accountability to tell us taxpayers how many abortions we are actually paying for globally. DFID admit: ‘we cannot provide a specific figure for the amount of funding that will be spent on comprehensive and safe abortion care.’

The Government assures us that any funding given with regards to family planning is used in accordance with the recipient nation’s legislation. UK aid cannot be used to fund illegal services . So, it is worrying that in Niger, MSI has been violating the law. And in Kenya its subsidiary has been. The KMPDB in its criticism of MSI resorted to instructions to the organisation to submit a weekly report  detailing all the services offered at its clinics for 60 days.

While all the details of this case have yet to come into the public domain, one cannot help but wonder what else will come to light as these proceedings continue.

We should not forget the context in which MSI in Kenya works.  87% of Kenyans are opposed to abortion.  Abortion is not permitted unless the life or health of the mother is at risk, legislation that reflects societal values and the belief that life begins at conception   and that every person (thus including the unborn child) has the right to life. A ComRes poll in the UK in 2017 found that 65 per cent  of UK taxpayers oppose the use of their money to fund abortions overseas.

MSI provided more than 4.1million ‘safe’ abortion and post-abortion care services in 2017 worldwide. Marie Stopes Kenya increased their CYP (Couple Years of Protection) delivery by 18 per cent since 2016. (A CYP is a measurement used by family planning services, which represents the contraception required by a couple to prevent pregnancy for one year.) Part of this increase was due to ‘safe’  abortion/post-abortion care services, which rose by 13 per cent.

A recent report  carried out by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) highlighted significant failures by DFID to improve maternal health services. The report suggests that there was an intensive focus on family planning’ l to the detriment of other causes of maternal morbidity and mortality. Although unsafe abortions are a cause of maternal mortality, these account for only 7.9 per cent of maternal deaths. The biggest contributors to maternal deaths are haemorrhage (27.1 per cent), hypertensive disorders (14 per cent) and sepsis (10.7 per cent). These are not prevented by family planning services. Despite the money thrown at developing countries to improve access to contraception and abortion, the report found that ‘progress on improving emergency obstetric and neonatal care has been well short of targets.

Lord Alton has called‘…on the Government to undertake an urgent inquiry into allegations that Marie Stopes International is performing illegal abortions in Kenya. They need to determine as a matter of urgency whether Marie Stopes International is in fact promoting and performing abortions contrary to the law in Kenya. Investment in quality maternal health services in Africa should be prioritised rather than an intense imposition of abortion and population control.’ 

Why can DFID not tell us the amount of funding that they spend on abortions worldwide? Why their intensive focus on ‘family planning’ to the detriment of improving maternal morbidity and mortality?  Why fund an organisation that has been found to be operating illegally in the UK and internationally? More to the point, why is the UK even funding abortion ‘charities’ like MSI and paying for abortions that are against the indigenous values of African women and girls? It’s strong language but is there some truth in the Pope’s claim that this is ideological colonisation? And a war, not with weapons but ideas?


This video summarises the views of many African activists on the issue:



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