US Christian Right Spend $75 Million Globally on Anti-Abortion and Anti-LGBTIQ Activism Since 2015
In a two-month investigation, Sascha Lavin and Sian Norris tracked the spend of leading US Christian Right organisations in Europe, Russia and Africa
Leading US Christian nationalist organisations, some with connections to the Trump regime, are spending millions of dollars to influence abortion and LGBTIQ discourse around the world.
Analysis of the financial records of 10 of the biggest Christian nationalist groups found they had spent $74,770,042 outside the US since 2015 – although the true spend is likely higher.
This includes $35,131,006 in Europe, Russia and its neighbouring states, where the biggest spenders are Alliance Defending Freedom ($16.1 million), the American Centre for Law and Justice ($8.36 million); and the Federalist Society ($4.04 million). These three main players engage in legal advocacy to advance the anti-abortion, anti-LGBTIQ agenda outside of the US.
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The Dutch MEP Sophie In t’Veld told Byline Times: “American organisations are actively shaping national and regional anti-LGBTIQ and anti-abortion discourses around the world. They have succeeded spectacularly, and with devastating effect, in a number of countries. Europe is a battlefield in a global struggle. They strive to change European laws and morals, but also to diminish European commitment to pro-abortion, pro-LGBTIQ and pro-contraception causes”.
“We are seeing an evolution in these organisations’ strategies,” says Gillian Kane from global reproductive rights NGO Ipas. “Increasingly we are seeing these organisations take a political mandate around sexual and reproductive health issues which is supported by legal strategies from organisations such as American Centre for Law and Justice (ACLJ) and Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF)”.
“The sole mission of these groups is to strip away rights,” explained Ashley Underwood, from US-based Equity Forward. “And whether that’s in the US or in other countries, they’re about controlling people’s lives and control decisions, and truly pushing their agenda of hate discrimination and manipulation under this guise of religion”.
The other organisations analysed were Human Life International, Heartbeat International, World Youth Alliance, Acton Institute, Fellowship Foundation, Focus on the Family (data only available for 2015), and the Cato Institute. None of the listed organisations responded to our request for comment.
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Activity in Europe
The biggest spenders in Europe were two legal advocacy organisations Alliance Defending Freedom – which operates in the region as ADF International – and the American Centre for Law and Justice, which funds its regional European Centre for Law and Justice.
According to research by Neil Datta at the European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual and Reproductive Rights, Alliance Defending Freedom is in itself funded by the US-based DeVos Foundation, the Donors Trust, and the National Christian Charitable Foundation. The DeVos family is close to Trump – Betsy DeVos was his Education Secretary during a period when the administration weakened protections against sexual harassment. The Donors Trust has been linked to the Bradley Foundation and the Koch Brothers.
ADF International UK had an income of £720,704 in the financial year ending June 2021, which includes an unrestricted donation from the US parent charity. In the financial year ending June 2019, the UK branch saw a funding “increase of £100,000 by Alliance Defending Freedom”, according to documents on Companies House.
The organisation has become increasingly visible in the UK, particularly on the issue of buffer zones around abortion clinics. It intervened in the notorious ‘gay cake’ case, and has campaigned on campus freedom of speech in defence of anti-abortion students and societies. Despite the US branch being designated as a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Centre – a designation it disputes – ADF International was quoted in a Department for Education white paper on freedom of expression.
“The more progress we make, the more these groups are getting motivated to push even harder for their agendas and to get even more creative and how they’re appealing to different demographics to broaden their base,” said Underwood.
The American Centre for Law and Justice financial records between 2015-21 indicate yearly grants to its European arm, as well as spending £1.4 million in Russia and the newly independent states via grants to the Slavic Centre for Law and Justice. The centre was founded by Pat Robertson, the Republican firebrand who famously said that feminism encouraged women to “kill their children, practice witchcraft and become lesbians”. Its chief counsel is Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow.
The organisation also has an East Africa branch where, according to writing by Kapya John Kaoma, it “hides an American-based agenda behind African faces, giving the Christian Right room to attack gender justice and LGBT rights as a neocolonial enterprise imposed on Africans and obstructing meaningful critique of the US Right’s activities”.
“After many years and many millions spent, results are slowly but surely showing,” said In t’Veld. “The EU, for instance, has a special envoy for ‘the promotion of religious freedom or belief’. This post is almost always filled by a hard-line Christian conservative, and is most enthusiastically backed by the most conservative quarters of EU politics. Even more important are the underlying conditions for the creation of such a post; an established nationalist pan-European movement has shown itself willing to marry nationalism to the causes espoused by American anti-abortion and anti-LGBTIQ organisations”.
Neither ADF or ACLJ responded to requests for comment.
Anti-Abortion Activity Around the World
One of the major US anti-abortion organisations with a large global spend is Heartbeat International, which has an affiliated network of crisis pregnancy centres accused of using disinformation to persuade women not to access abortion.
In the UK, one of its affiliates is Stanton Healthcare – linked to the anti-abortion 40 Days for Life organisation which The Times revealed is promoting abortion-pill reversal, a key offering of Heartbeat International.
The organisation has spent $272,471 in Europe, Russia and its neighbouring states – including Ukraine, Spain, Italy, Germany and Serbia – between the financial years ending 2015 and 2020. During the same time period, it spent more than $151,396 in sub-Saharan Africa, where it has affiliated crisis pregnancy centres in Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, and Zambia.
Speaking more widely on the subject of crisis pregnancy centres – not those necessarily affiliated to Heartbeat International – Underwood told Byline Times how “they want to control who becomes pregnant, but they don’t want to support all the different variations of family or what a pregnancy may look like. It’s interesting too, as what they truly value is what they put their money behind. We see them putting their money behind marketing and SEO professionals and lobbying, we don’t see them putting their money behind providing direct support and materials to people in the communities they’re purporting to help”.
The World Youth Alliance’s Kenya office has been fundraising for a crisis pregnancy centre in the country. The US branch of WYA spent more than $300,000 in sub-Saharan Africa since 2015, although it also raises money through its Belgium office. WYA opposed Kenya’s failed 2020 Reproductive Healthcare Bill.
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Heartbeat International is one example where US anti-abortion organisations are exporting money and tactics – in this case the crisis pregnancy centre model – around the world.
Another example relates to legal advocacy, as identified by Kane at IPAS. She told Byline Times that since the Dobbs decision in the US in June, which ended the nationwide right to safe and legal abortion, anti-abortion movements in other countries are testing the same legal arguments to frustrate progress on reproductive rights.
“In both Kenya and in Lagos State in Nigeria we have solid examples where the Dobbs decision is being used to attack abortion rights,” Kane explained. ‘The first is to challenge a legal case in Kenya that in March affirmed the constitutional right to abortion when the pregnancy threatens the mother’s health. The judge used arguments linked to Roe v Wade, but with Roe gone, that is being challenged by opposition groups. In Nigeria, groups are using Dobbs decision to argue against disseminating guidelines about when abortion is permissable in the state”.
Judy Taing, Head of Gender and Sexuality at ARTICLE 19, said: “The ‘traditional values’ rhetoric is a well-spun tactic of using so-called morals and ethics to consolidate power and justify oppression by right-wing conservative groups domestically and globally. Within this, we need to see clearly that the prohibition of abortion is not an end-goal, but rather a vehicle within a larger campaign to silence any form of opposition, to trap people into cycles of poverty and oppressive gender roles, and to isolate and disempower activists, human rights defenders and journalists”.
Neither Heartbeat International or WYA responded to requests fro comment.