Mexico City policy

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The Mexico City policy, sometimes referred to by its critics as the global gag rule,[1] is a United States government policy that blocked U.S. federal funding for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that provided abortion counseling or referrals, advocated to decriminalize abortion, or expanded abortion services. When in effect, the Mexico City policy is a U.S. government policy that requires foreign non-governmental organizations to certify that they will not "perform or actively promote abortion as a method of family planning" with non-U.S. funds as a condition for receiving U.S. global family planning assistance and, as of January 23, 2017, any other U.S. global health assistance, including U.S. global HIV (under PEPFAR) and maternal and child health (MCH) assistance.

The Mexico City policy was first implemented on January 20, 1985 by the second Reagan administration. Since that time, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has enforced the policy during all subsequent Republican administrations and has rescinded the policy at the direction of all Democratic administrations.[2] After its initial implementation by Republican President Ronald Reagan in 1985,[3] the policy was rescinded by Democratic President Bill Clinton in January 1993,[4] re-instituted in January 2001 by Republican President George W. Bush,[5] rescinded in January 2009 by Democratic President Barack Obama,[6][7] and reinstated in January 2017 when Republican President Donald Trump took office.[8][9][10] In an address to the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Advisor to the President, confirmed that President Joe Biden would rescind the policy, as with his Democratic predecessors;[11][12][13] the recission occurred later in January 2021.[14]

Scope of the policy[edit]

The policy requires 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".[15] The policy has exceptions for abortions performed in response to rape, incest, or life-threatening conditions.[16]

History of the policy[edit]

Named for Mexico City, the venue of the United Nations International Conference on Population and Development where it was announced, the policy was instituted by U.S. President Ronald Reagan in 1984.[17][18][19] 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.[20]

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.[21]

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,[22] and Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc. v. USAID.[23] Ultimately, the two court rulings contributed to the policy being used only against foreign NGOs, while not invoked against U.S. NGOs.

Presidential Memorandum Regarding the Mexico City Policy (2017)

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".[4] On January 22, 2001, President George W. Bush reinstated the policy, 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".[24] 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.[25] The policy was rescinded again by President Barack Obama on January 23, 2009,[7] and further reinstated on January 23, 2017 by President Donald Trump.[10] Trump not only reinstated the policy but expanded it, making it cover all global health organizations that receive U.S. government funding, rather than only family planning organizations that do, as was previously the case. This includes offices such as USAID, the Department of State, Global Aids Coordinator, Center of Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute of Health, and Department of Defense.[26]

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 (PEPFAR) was excluded from the Mexico City policy under the George W. Bush administration, but was not excluded since the Mexico City policy was reinstated on January 23, 2017.[27]

In May 2017, Rex Tillerson announced an expansion of the policy; originally a ban covering roughly $600 million in family planning money, the Trump policy since then applied to all international health care aid doled out by the U.S. government — nearly $9 billion.[28]

In 2021 President Biden rescinded the Mexico City policy.[29]


According to a 2019 study in the journal Lancet, the implementation of the Mexico City Policy during the Bush administration (2001-2009) unintentionally led to more abortions. By limiting funding for family planning organizations, which use abortion as one of many methods of family planning, use of contraceptives reduced and pregnancies increased. When the Mexico City Policy was in effect under the G.W. Bush administration, the abortion rate was 64% higher in thirteen countries highly affected by the policy than in other comparable countries. Under the immediately preceding Clinton administration, when the policy was not in effect, the abortion rate in the thirteen countries was 8% lower than in the other comparable countries. The authors of the study estimate that Bush's imposition of the Mexico City Policy increased the abortion rate in the thirteen countries by 40%, and the rest of the increase had other causes.[30]

A 2015 study of Ghana found that the policy increased unintended pregnancies and abortions.[31] A 2011 study which examined Sub-Saharan Africa found that the Mexico City Policy likewise had the unintended consequence of increasing the number of abortions, with the authors suggesting that the reduction in financial support for family planning organizations led to a greater number of accidental pregnancies.[32]

Rutgers University economist Yana van der Meulen Rodgers concluded in her 2019 book The Global Gag Rule and Women's Reproductive Health that Mexico City policy had not reduced abortions, likely increased unsafe abortions, and adversely affected health outcomes for men, women and children.[1] In a 2017 editorial for the New England Journal of Medicine, Stanford University health experts Nathan Lo and Michele Barry noted that research showed the policy increases unintended pregnancies and abortions. They write, "the reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy is a stark example of “evidence-free” policymaking that ignores the best scientific data, resulting in a policy that harms global health and, ultimately, the American people."[33] 2017 editorials in The BMJ by University of Michigan Medical School health experts,[34] and The Lancet by University of Toronto, Columbia University and Guttmacher Institute health experts concluded the same.[35][36]


The policy originally enacted from 1984 to 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.[37] 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.[37] A study of nations in sub-Saharan Africa suggests that unintended pregnancies increased and abortions approximately doubled while the policy was in effect.[38] Critics also argue that the ban promotes restrictions on free speech as well as restrictions on accurate medical information.[39][40][41][42] 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".[43]

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.[44] Supporters also argue that the policy prevents the health agencies from promoting abortion at the expense of other birth control methods.[45][46]

The Vatican supports the Mexico City policy.[47]

Related policies[edit]

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.[48] The European commissioner Poul Nielson said that the European Union wished to "fill the decency gap" left by the Mexico City policy.[49][50]

The UNFPA states that it does not "provide support for abortion services".[51] Pro-life individuals and organizations have accused the UNFPA of supporting forced abortions by the Chinese government.[52][53] 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.[54] The organization has stated that it "has never, and will never, be involved in coercion in China or any part of the world".[51]

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.[55]

In popular culture[edit]

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.[56]

An episode of the American television series The West Wing, entitled "Privateers", featured a "gag rule" amendment of a law for overseas aid.[57]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Rodgers, Yana van der Meulen (2019). The Global Gag Rule and Women's Reproductive Health: Rhetoric Versus Reality. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780190876128.
  2. ^ Lee, Michelle Ye Hee. "Does Trump's Mexico City policy ban funds to groups that 'even mention' abortion?" – via
  3. ^ "What is the Mexico City Policy?". Retrieved 2017-01-23.
  4. ^ a b Clinton, William J. (January 22, 1993). "AID Family Planning Grants/Mexico City Policy". Archived from the original on July 4, 2008. Retrieved 2007-09-29.
  5. ^ "Restoration of the Mexico City Policy – Memorandum for the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development". Federal Register. 28 March 2001.
  6. ^ "Mexico City Policy and Assistance for Voluntary Population Planning – Memorandum for the Secretary of State [and] the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development". Federal Register. 23 January 2009.
  7. ^ a b Obama, Barack (January 23, 2009). "Statement of President Barack Obama on Rescinding the Mexico City Policy". Retrieved 2017-01-24.
  8. ^ "The Mexico City Policy – Memorandum for the Secretary of State[,] the Secretary of Health and Human Services[, and] the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development". Federal Register. 25 January 2017.
  9. ^ Jeremy Diamond; Dana Bash. "TPP withdrawal Trump's first executive action Monday, sources say". CNN. Retrieved 2017-01-23.
  10. ^ a b Sengupta, Somini (2017-01-23). "Trump Revives Ban on Foreign Aid to Groups That Give Abortion Counseling". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-01-24.
  11. ^ Silberner, Joanne (9 November 2020). "US election: Biden announces covid-19 task force, promising "compassion, empathy, and concern"". BMJ. 371. doi:10.1136/bmj.m4327. ISSN 1756-1833.
  12. ^ "White House won't give plans on Hyde Amendment, Mexico City Policy". Washington, D.C.: Catholic News Agency. January 20, 2021. Retrieved January 21, 2021.
  13. ^ Safi, Michael (January 21, 2021). "Fauci: US to repeal anti-abortion rule on aid and join Covax vaccine scheme". The Guardian. Retrieved January 21, 2021.
  14. ^ Lucey, Catherine; Peterson, Kristina (January 28, 2021). "Biden Targets Abortion Restrictions as Fight Looms in Congress". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved January 28, 2021.
  15. ^ Bush, George. W. (January 22, 2001). Restoration of the Mexico City Policy. Retrieved September 29, 2007.
  16. ^ Horton, Adrian (June 5, 2019). "Trump's anti-abortion global gag rule threatening women's lives, report says" – via
  17. ^ US Policy Statement for the International Conference on Population. (1984). Population and Development Review, 10(3), 574–79. Retrieved September 29, 2007.
  18. ^ Lewis, Neil A. (June 1, 1987). "Abortions Abroad are Focus of Widening Battle Over Reagan's Policy." The New York Times. Retrieved September 29, 2007.
  19. ^ Robinson, B.A. (April 27, 2007). U.S. "Mexico City" policy: Abortion funding in foreign countries. Retrieved September 29, 2007.
  20. ^ "Values Voter Presidential Debate :: Alan Keyes Archives".
  21. ^ Motluk, Alison. (October 6, 2004). "US abortion policy: A healthy strategy for whom?." New Scientist. Retrieved September 29, 2007.
  22. ^ United States. Court Of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit (1987). "DKT Memorial Fund v. Agency for International Development, 13 February 1987". Annual Review of Population Law. 14 (14): 42–3. PMID 12346727.
  23. ^ United States. Court Of Appeals, Second Circuit (1987). "Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc. v. Agency for International Development, 29 January 1988". Annual Review of Population Law. 15 (14): 43–4. PMID 12289567.
  24. ^ "Restoration of the Mexico City Policy". Retrieved 2020-11-08.
  25. ^ "Senate lifts foreign family-planning funds ban." (September 7, 2007). MSNBC News. Retrieved September 29, 2007.
  26. ^ Gardenswartz, Jacob. "Trump's global abortion gag rule goes much further than any previous administration". Vox. Retrieved 2017-01-26.
  27. ^ Population Action International. (August 15, 2001).What You Need to Know About the Global Gag Rule and U.S. HIV/AIDS Assistance: An Unofficial Guide Archived 2007-08-31 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved September 29, 2007.
  28. ^, The Washington Times. "Trump cuts all health care aid to international groups performing or promoting abortion". The Washington Times.
  29. ^ Lucey, Catherine; Peterson, Kristina (January 28, 2021). "Biden Targets Abortion Restrictions as Fight Looms in Congress". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved January 28, 2021.
  30. ^ Miller, Grant; Bendavid, Eran; Brooks, Nina (2019-06-27). "USA aid policy and induced abortion in sub-Saharan Africa: an analysis of the Mexico City Policy". The Lancet Global Health. 0 (8): e1046–e1053. doi:10.1016/S2214-109X(19)30267-0. ISSN 2214-109X. PMID 31257094.
  31. ^ Jones, Kelly M. (2015-10-01). "Contraceptive Supply and Fertility Outcomes: Evidence from Ghana" (PDF). Economic Development and Cultural Change. 64 (1): 31–69. doi:10.1086/682981. ISSN 0013-0079.
  32. ^ Bendavid, Eran; Avila, Patrick; Miller, Grant (2011-12-01). "United States aid policy and induced abortion in sub-Saharan Africa". Bulletin of the World Health Organization. 89 (12): 873–880. doi:10.2471/BLT.11.091660. PMC 3260902. PMID 22271944.
  33. ^ Lo, Nathan C.; Barry, Michele (2017-04-13). "The Perils of Trumping Science in Global Health — The Mexico City Policy and Beyond". New England Journal of Medicine. 376 (15): 1399–1401. doi:10.1056/NEJMp1701294. ISSN 0028-4793. PMID 28225666.
  34. ^ Greer, Scott L; Rominski, Sarah D (2017-02-01). "The global gag rule and what to do about it". BMJ. 356: j511. doi:10.1136/bmj.j511. ISSN 0959-8138. PMID 28148475.
  35. ^ Karim, Salim S. Abdool; Singh, Jerome A. (2017-04-01). "Trump's "global gag rule": implications for human rights and global health". The Lancet Global Health. 5 (4): e387–e389. doi:10.1016/S2214-109X(17)30084-0. ISSN 2214-109X. PMID 28288738.
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  39. ^ Sierra Club. It has also been proved that the Global Gag Rule inhibited women worldwide from access to gynecological exams, AIDS prevention and treatment, and contraceptive options. It also halted shipment of condoms and contraceptives to more than 20 countries (Feminist Majority). (n.d.) "Global Gag Rule Archived 2008-04-09 at the Wayback Machine." Retrieved September 29, 2007.
  40. ^ Center for Reproductive Rights. (July 2003). The Bush Global Gag Rule: Endangering Women’s Health, Free Speech and Democracy Archived 2008-04-01 at the Wayback Machine." Retrieved September 29, 2007.
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  42. ^ Illingworth, Betsy. (January 18, 2005). "The Global Gag Rule Archived 2007-07-09 at the Wayback Machine." Retrieved September 29, 2007.
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  44. ^ National Committee for a Human Life Amendment. (October 28, 2002). Fact Sheet: The Mexico City Policy Archived 2007-07-05 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved September 29, 2007.
  45. ^ Lopez, Kathryn Jean. (June 21, 2007 ). "This Mexican Policy Is a Keeper Archived 2007-10-21 at the Wayback Machine." National Review. Retrieved September 29, 2007.
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  49. ^ European Parliament. (January 13, 2004). Health issues and poverty reduction.
  50. ^ Castle, Stephen. (February 5, 2001). "Europe to fund US abortion shortfall." The Independent. Retrieved September 29, 2007.
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  55. ^ "Contraception motion defeated." (March 23, 2010). CBC News.
  56. ^ "'Squid Pro Quo' Episode Summary." (n.d.) Retrieved September 29, 2007.
  57. ^ The "West Wing", Season 4 Episode 18