Mexico City Policy
The Mexico City Policy is an intermittent United States government policy that required all non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that receive federal funding to refrain from performing or promoting abortion services as a method of family planning with non-US government funds in other countries. Since January 23, 2009, the policy has not been in effect. From 1973 on, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has followed the Helms Amendment ruling, banning use of U.S. government funds to provide abortion as a method of family planning anywhere in the world. 
The policy is a political flashpoint in the abortion debate, with Republican administrations adopting it and Democratic administrations rescinding it; the policy was enacted by Republican President Ronald Reagan in 1984, rescinded by Democratic President Bill Clinton in January 1993, re-instituted in January 2001 as Republican President George W. Bush took office, and rescinded January 23, 2009, three days after Democratic President Barack Obama took office. It has been referred to by some critics as the Mexico City Gag Rule and the Global Gag Rule.
Scope of the policy
The August 1984 announcement by President Reagan of what has become known as the "Mexico City Policy" directed the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to expand this limitation and withhold USAID funds from NGOs that use non-USAID funds to engage in a wide range of activities, including providing advice, counseling, or information regarding abortion, or lobbying a foreign government to legalize or make abortion available. The Mexico City Policy was in effect from 1985 until 1993, when it was rescinded by President Clinton. President George W. Bush reinstated the policy in 2001, implementing it through conditions in USAID grant awards, and subsequently extended the policy to "voluntary population planning" assistance provided by the Department of State.
The policy required non-governmental organizations to "agree as a condition of their receipt of [U.S.] federal funds" that they would "neither perform nor actively promote abortion as a method of family planning in other nations". The policy had exceptions for abortions done in response to rape, incest, or life-threatening conditions.
History of the policy
Named for the venue of the United Nations International Conference on Population where it was announced, the Mexico City Policy was instituted by U.S. President Ronald Reagan in 1984. The final language of the 1984 policy was negotiated by the deputy chairman of the U.S. delegation, Alan Keyes, then an Assistant Secretary of State.
After the establishment of the Mexico City Policy, organizations were required to meet its specified conditions in order to be eligible for federal funding from the United States, and as a result, several international abortion agencies no longer received a portion of their funds from this source. The International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) did not alter its operation and lost more than 20% of its total funding. Other family planning organizations, such as the Family Guidance Association of Ethiopia and the Planned Parenthood Association of Zambia, likewise did not make the changes required by the Mexico City Policy and had their funding cut. NGOs in Romania and Colombia adapted to the new U.S. guidelines and continued to qualify for federal funding.
In 1987 and 1988, the policy was challenged by two U.S. Appeals court rulings in DKT Memorial Fund Ltd. vs. USAID, involving Phil Harvey and two foreign NGOs, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc. v. USAID Ultimately, the two court rulings contributed to the policy being used only against foreign NGOs, while not invoked against U.S. NGOs.
President Bill Clinton rescinded the Mexico City Policy on January 22, 1993. He referred to the policy as being "excessively broad" and stated that it had "undermined efforts to promote safe and efficacious family planning programs in foreign nations". On January 22, 2001, President George W. Bush reinstated the policy by executive order, stating, "It is my conviction that taxpayer funds should not be used to pay for abortions or advocate or actively promote abortion, either here or abroad. It is therefore my belief that the Mexico City Policy should be restored". In September 2007, Barbara Boxer, a Senator from California, created an amendment designed to lift the funding conditions put in place by the Mexico City Policy. It passed by a vote of 53-41. President Bush promised to veto any legislation which would eliminate the Mexico City Policy. On January 23, 2009, President Barack Obama rescinded the policy once again.
The nature of the policy has implications for organizations in certain countries such as South Africa. Even if these organizations support the policy itself, it is illegal for them not to inform a woman seeking an abortion of her rights, and/or refer her to a facility where she may have an abortion. The President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief is excluded from the Mexico City Policy.
Debate over the policy
The policy originally enacted from 1984-1993 spoke to abortion only, not family planning in general. However, in 2001, the policy was re-implemented and expanded to cover all voluntary family planning activities, and critics began to refer to it as the "global gag rule." These critics argue that the policy not only reduces the overall funding provided to particular NGOs, it closes off their access to USAID-supplied condoms and other forms of contraception. This, they argue, negatively impacts the ability of these NGOs to distribute birth control, leading to a downturn in contraceptive use and from there to an increase in the rates of unintended pregnancies and abortion. Empirical evidence suggests that unintended pregnancies increased and abortions approximately doubled among women living in areas that were most affected by the Mexico City Policy. Critics also argue that the ban promotes restrictions on free speech as well as restrictions on accurate medical information. The European Parliamentary Forum on Population and Development presented a petition to the United States Congress signed by 233 members condemning the policy. The forum has stated that the policy "undermines internationally agreed consensus and goals".
Supporters of the policy have argued, using the example of the Philippines, that the ban prevents overseas health organizations from using U.S. government funds to contravene the contraception and abortion laws of the countries in which they operate. Supporters also argue that the policy prevents the health agencies from promoting abortion at the expense of other birth control methods.
In a possible signal that he hopes to defuse or avoid some of the heated politics of the issue, President Obama in his rescinding of the policy on Friday, January 23, had chosen not to act the previous day, the 36th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision and the day of the large March for Life in Washington. Both of Obama's predecessors had taken action on respective January 22nds at the beginnings of their first terms.
The Sandbæk Report of the European Union, which calls for the funding of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), was seen by some Catholic commentators as a contrast to the Mexico City Policy. The European commissioner Poul Nielson said that the European Union wished to "fill the decency gap" left by the Mexico City Policy.
The UNFPA states that it does not "provide support for abortion services". Pro-life individuals and organizations have accused the UNFPA of supporting forced abortions by the Chinese government. The Bush administration withheld funding from the agency due to concerns about its alleged involvement. A 2002 U.S. State Department investigation found "no evidence" that UNFPA knowingly took part in forced abortions. The organization has stated that it "has never, and will never, be involved in coercion in China or any part of the world".
In 2010, the Harper government in Canada announced a maternal health development aid plan for the upcoming G8 summit which did not include financial support for abortion or contraception, drawing comparisons to the Mexico City Policy.
References in popular culture
An episode of the television series Boston Legal, "Squid Pro Quo", which originally aired on May 9, 2006, featured a case involving USAID's withdrawal of funding to an overseas non-profit organization.
The West Wing Episode "Privateers" featured a "gag rule" amendment of a law for overseas aid.
- Abortion in the United States
- Hyde Amendment
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- The "West Wing", Season 4 Episode 18