The United States on Monday said it was withdrawing funding from the United Nations Population Fund, a move that has been decried by the international agency. In a letter to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, the US State Department said it was ending the funding because the UN Family Planning Agency “supports, or participates in the management of, a programme of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilisation”, Reuters reported.

Terming the claim “erroneous”, UNFPA said all of its work “promotes the human rights of individuals and couples to make their own decisions, free of coercion or discrimination”. The UN body further said that the US had long participated in promoting reproductive health and rights of women and girls.

“The support we received over the years from the government and people of the United States has saved tens of thousands of mothers from preventable deaths and disabilities, especially now in the rapidly developing global humanitarian crises,” UNFPA said in a statement.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “regretted” the decision made by the Donald Trump administration, said UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric, according to Reuters. Guterres further warned that the move could have “devastating effects” on women around the world.

Known as the “global gag rule”, Trump’s January 2017 order reinstated the Mexico City Policy, which bans federal funding to NGOs that perform abortions or provide information on the procedure. Former US President Barack Obama had revoked the rule in 2009.

The US is the world’s largest donor towards global health, spending around $3 billion (around Rs 19,500 crore) on worldwide healthcare through just the US Agency for International Development, in addition to others. Trump had spoken against abortion repeatedly during his presidential campaign. In his final debate with Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, he had referred to the procedure as “ripping the baby out of the womb” days before birth. Activists had said his description was more apt for a caesarean section than an abortion.