Far-right groups in the U.S, Russia and the European Union are funding an anti-gender movement that threatens the livelihoods of women and minorities, experts in Europe have warned.
Speaking at a hearing in European Parliament, Secretary of the European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual & Reproductive Rights Neil Gatta explained that major far-right Christian groups like Heartbeat International are financing and supporting anti-abortion organisations in 18 countries like Malta, Italy, Croatia, Germany and Spain.
“Women’s rights have come up to contestations in recent years. We’ve seen this in recent developments in Poland and Turkey. We can see why this is happening by looking at who is funding these initiatives,” he said.
Over the last 10 years, at least $700 million was spent on “anti-gender activism” in the bloc.
“These figures are incomplete because of large data gaps. We’re really just looking at the tip of the iceberg here,” Datta told the committee.
Heartbeat International was mentioned as one of the hundreds of entities funding anti-abortion campaigns in Europe. It is an American organisation known to provide support through training and significant funding. It is affiliated with three entities in Malta: Hope Crisis Pregnancy Support, LifeLine Malta and LifeNetwork Malta.
According to Claire Provost, the global investigations editor at OpenDemocracy, affiliates from Heartbeat international were involved in legal interventions, lobbying, misinformation campaigns and network building across borders.
“Our undercover journalists came across advertisements that don’t disclose their anti-abortion positions. They’ve had affiliates say abortions can cause cancer while having a baby can cure serious illnesses. They used guilt tactics to prevent women from getting abortions,” she explained.
MEPs present for the hearing called for more transparency and better rules on foreign funding for NGOs and foundations, in the face of these threats.
“We are learning about the growing financial flows originating from outside the EU – from Russia, the USA and other places – to European anti-choice organisations, which actively work towards undermining sexual education and attack women’s right to decide over their own bodies. This is unacceptable. This foreign interference is an attack on fundamental rights in Europe and our democracy. We need more and better rules to reduce these dark money in-flows from abroad, ” MEP Evelyn Regner, chair of the committee on women’s rights and gender equality, said.
Another MEP Raphaël Glucksmann who chairs of the committee on foreign interference in democratic processes said that this interference is “extremely serious”.
“We have seen in recent history that some foreign hostile powers use social issues, such as legislation on abortion, the defence of women’s rights, or the protection of minorities, in order to push their agendas onto our societies and increase the artificial polarisation within our societies. This interference must stop. European citizens should not be manipulated by an ideological agenda shaped abroad and imposed on them through foreign money.”
Speaking to Lovin Malta, local pro-choice group Doctors for Choice added that Malta is also helping fund LifeNetwork Foundation Malta, to run its “pregnancy crisis centre”.
“LifeNetwork Foundation Malta has received a grant to the tune of €130,000 over three years to run their pregnancy crisis service. We are not privy to the details of this grant, but one only has to look at their website to realise that they peddle untruths about abortion and contraception, such as falsely stating that abortion pills can be reversed and that the morning after pills cause abortion,” Chris Barbara from D4C said.
Besides being affiliated with Heartbeat International, also known to set up fake abortion clinics, LifeNetwork Foundation is also connected to Agenda Europe.
“Agenda Europe, an extremist network that aims to reverse many civil rights in Europe, including those of LGBT people. By finding such an organisation, the Maltese government is giving tacit approval to their regressive ideologies,” Barbara finished.
In a detailed reply to this article, Life Network Foundation said vehemently rejected “any implication of financial assistance from the foreign organisations mentioned in the article”.
“On the contrary, we gratefully received a €130,000 grant from our own Maltese Government, over a three-year period, which helps in the running expenses of our maternity home and amounts to approximately €43,000 per year,” the Life Network Foundation said.
This article is part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. This article reflects only the author’s view. The European Parliament is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.
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