The European Union is to fill the gap left by the US decision to stop funding the UN's family planning organization with 32m (£20.3m) aid for sexual and reproductive health work in 22 countries, the Guardian has learned.
The aid, to be announced later this week, will replace the $34m US contribution to the UN Population Fund (UNPFA), which helps poorer countries with family planning and advice on population control, health and sexual matters.
The state department announced on Monday that George Bush was ending payment. The president has been under pressure from anti-abortionist groups to stop funding bodies which give advice on abortion.
The European commission will send the money to projects run by the UNPFA and the International Planned Parenthood Federation.
Poul Nielson, the development commissioner, promised last year that the EU would step in when the White House announced it that it would cut its funding of organizations it suspected of encouraging abortions or sterilization.
"The losers from this decision will be some of the most vulnerable people on earth," a commission spokesman said yesterday.
The EU's development policy gives an important place to reproductive health education, including awareness of Aids, as an essential part of the fight against poverty.
The countries benefiting from its aid, ranging from Burkina Faso to Zambia, have childbirth mortality rates of 500 to 1,800 in 100,000 births.
Funds will be allotted to pre and post-natal care, pregnancy counseling, and abortion where there is risk to the mother. About 80,000 women die every year from unsafe abortions.
The EU, worried by transatlantic disputes on defense, trade and food safety, and a general US trend towards withdrawing from multinational cooperation, was angered by the withdrawal of funding, describing it as "irresponsible and counter-productive.
Demands for action were led by Clare Short, the UK international development secretary, who wanted to avoid a public row with Washington but was anxious for the EU to play an active role in global population policy.
Mr Nielson, a former Danish development minister, argues that organizations such as UNPFA and IPPF are part of the solution, not part of the problem.
Brussels already contributes 47m to family planning organizations, mostly for contraception and educational work in Asia.
Mr Bush's decision, signaled on his first full working day in office last year, reintroduces a ban first imposed by Ronald Reagan in 1984, maintained by Mr Bush's father, then reversed by Bill Clinton.
Anti-abortion lobbyists said the money would be used in China to facilitate forced abortions and sterilizations, although a US fact-finding mission found no evidence that this was so. China said yesterday that the US decision would only harm government efforts to stop forced abortions.
Its government planners admit that illegal forced sterilization. still occurs in isolated pockets of the country because of loopholes and limited resources in the state family planning system.
"This only serves the United States' political goals, and nothing else," an official of the state family planning commission said.
In the US, moderate Republicans are dismayed by the decision, which they feel could be damaging in the November mid-term elections, and could further isolate the US from its European allies.
The UN agency's director, Thoraya Obaid, said on Monday that the decision would cost the lives of tens of thousands of women and children.
The money would have prevented two million unwanted pregnancies, nearly 800,000 induced abortions, 4,700 maternal deaths, nearly 60,000 cases of serious maternal illness and more than 77,000 infant and child deaths.