The Australian Government’s decision to overturn a ban on using foreign aid for abortion funding has sparked a sharp response from some Christian organisations.

The Australian Christian Lobby, which had pressed the government not to overturn the ban, said Christians were dismayed at the decision.

Managing director Jim Wallace says the Government has “caved in” to pro-abortion advocates.

“This will be the first time in Australia’s history that our aid dollars are used to kill unborn children overseas,” he says in a statement.

He says Christians who pushed for an increase in foreign aid funding at the last election would be “appalled” that some of those aid dollars will now be redirected to ending the lives of unborn children in poor countries.

Jack de Groot, chief executive of Catholic relief organisation Caritas, says the organisation was “gravely concerned” about the implications of the policy change. In a statement, he says the organisation has not yet been consulted on the issue by the Federal Government.

He says Caritas, as an agency of the Australian Catholic Bishop’s Conference, had a clear position on family planning which was to “promote the sanctity of life and uphold the dignity of every human person”.

“We are unsure how it will affect our programs and the millions of people we work with around the developing world...” he says.

“In countries throughout the Pacific, Africa, Latin America and Asia, the Catholic Church is one of the largest service providers in maternal health and early childhood development.”

The 13-year-old ban, introduced by the Howard Government in 1996, was overturned by Foreign Minister Stephen Smith who hs ruled that Australian aid monies can be used to fund abortion services in countries where terminations are legal. 

Announcing the decision, Mr Smith has said Australian aid funding would still focus on people avoiding abortions through family planning. He added that Australia would provide an additional $15 million in funding over four years through UN agencies and non government organisation’s for family planning and reproductive health activities to help reduce maternal deaths.

Mr Smith quoted UN estimates showing that universal family planning could save the lives of as many as 175,000 women a year. He said it is a tragedy that there are an estimated 42 million terminations performed globally each year, with almost half of these estimated to be medically unsafe.

The move comes just two months after President Barack Obama overturned a similar ban in the US. 

The Age reported this week that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd had told a meeting of Labor MPs he had “long-standing conservative views” on the issue but that a clear majority of Labor MPs were in favor of the change.

Family First’s Senator Steve Fielding was reported as saying that when it came to the crunch on value issues “the Prime Minister wimps out”.

The decision to overturn the ban was welcomed by some aid agencies, women’s and family planning organisations. 

Oxfam executive director Andrew Hewett says in a statement the change would help to save the lives of women in developing countries.

“The result of the previous policy had not just been an increase in the risk of needless death because of unsafe procedures, the policies themselves had made it increasingly hard for aid and development agencies to carry out any sexual and reproductive health services.”