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Latest 08 November 2023

Dark money anti-abortion group ramps up activity in the UK

Original photo: NurPhoto SRL / Alamy Stock Photo

The UK arm of Alliance Defending Freedom, a US pressure group which helped overturn Roe v Wade, almost doubled its spending between 2020 and 2022.

The UK branch of the rightwing “hate group” Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which supported controversial anti-abortion protests in the UK and has funded travel for a Tory MP, increased its spending in 2022 to £770,000.

Founded in the US in 1993, ADF hit the headlines last year as the force behind the US Supreme Court’s controversial decision to overturn Roe v Wade, which guaranteed the right to abortion. The group campaigns to attack LGBTQ+ rights and is deeply embedded in the Christian right, with links to Senator Josh Hawley, Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett and the newly-elected Speaker of the House, Mike Johnson.

Spending in the UK has surged, from £390,000 in 2020 to £770,000 in 2022. In recent months, the ADF have provided legal support to protesters in Birmingham and Bournemouth arrested within “buffer zones” – which are designed to protect vulnerable women when they are seeking abortion care.

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The charity does not reveal the sources of its funding, but according to its latest report (PDF), “the charity has received financial support in the form of unrestricted donations from Alliance Defending Freedom, a linked charity in the US”. These donations, the report continues, “do not require repayment”.

In the US, the group makes broad use of donor advised funds – a controversial loophole which allows people to hand over millions of dollars in complete anonymity. A recent investigation by Open Democracy showed that ADF received 43% of its income between 2017 and 2020 using this loophole.

ADF UK has been expanding its lobbying, hosting events in Westminster and engaging with All-Party Parliamentary Groups. The charity is a member of UK Freedom of Religion or Belief, which holds regular meetings with the Tory MP Fiona Bruce – the Prime Minister’s Envoy for Freedom of Religion and Belief.

In September 2023, Bruce helped to re-establish the Religious Education All-Party Parliamentary Group following a three month absence from the official register. In the same month, she also accepted £1,700 from ADF (PDF) to cover flights and hotel accommodation for a speaking engagement.

Because of the opaque nature of ADF’s funding we may never know the true identity of the individuals trying to influence UK policy.

According to Polly Jackman, National Coordinator of Sister Supporter, most people in the UK think people “should be able to control their own bodies and access abortion care, if that is what they have chosen to do, free from harassment.”

“These fundamentalist groups don’t agree,” Jackman said. “They want to impose their retrograde view of women on the population of the UK by using their money to lobby the highest levels of our government without any accountability. It should not be allowed. In this country we trust women, not agenda-driven lobbyists.”

Good Law Project approached ADF UK, Fiona Bruce MP and the Religious Education All-Party Parliamentary Group for comment.

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