Mexico City Policy

Mexico City Policy

The Mexico City Policy, also known by critics as the Mexico City Gag Rule and the Global Gag Rule,[1] was 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, in other countries. The policy is a political flashpoint in the abortion debate, with Republican administrations adopting it and Democratic administrations rescinding it. The policy was enacted soon after Republican President Ronald Reagan took office in 1984, rescinded by Democratic President Bill Clinton in January 1993, re-instituted in January 2001 as Republican President George W. Bush took office, and rescinded January 23, 2009, 2 days after Democratic President Barack Obama took office.[2]


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 The Mexico City Policy was in effect from 1985 until 1993, when it was rescinded by President Clinton.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".[3] The policy had exceptions for abortions done in response to rape, incest, or life-threatening conditions.[4]

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.[5][6][7] 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.[8]

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.[9]

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".[10] 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.[11] 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.[12]

Debate over the policy

Critics of the Mexico City Policy refer to it as the "global gag rule", arguing that, in addition to reducing the overall funding provided to particular NGOs, it closes off their access to USAID-supplied condoms and other forms of contraception.[13] 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.[13] Critics also argue that the ban promotes restrictions on free speech as well as restrictions on accurate medical information.[14][15][16][17] 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".[18]

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.[19] Supporters also argue that the policy prevents the health agencies from promoting abortion at the expense of other birth control methods.[20][21]

Some pro-life commentators have also criticized the policy and Bush's reinstitution of it as being only a nominal gesture toward the pro-life community. They argue that a stipulation in the policy means that it applies only to overseas NGOs which promote abortion "as a method of family planning", and, as such, that those organizations which promote abortion on other grounds are still able to receive full federal funding.[22]

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.[23] Both of Obama's predecessors had taken action on respective January 22nds at the beginnings of their first terms.[24]

The Vatican condemned Obama's repeal of the policy almost immediately.[25][26]

Related policies

The Sandbaek 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.[27] The European commissioner Poul Nielson said that the European Union wished to "fill the decency gap" left by the Mexican City Policy.[28][29]

The UNFPA states that it does not "provide support for abortion services".[30] Pro-life individuals and organizations have accused the UNFPA of supporting forced abortions by the Chinese government.[31][32] The Bush administration has 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.[33] The organization has stated that it "has never, and will never, be involved in coercion in China or any part of the world".[30]

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.[34]

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.[35]

The West Wing Episode "Privateers" featured a "gag rule" amendment of a law for overseas aid.[36]

See also


  1. ^ Pathfinder International: Advocacy: Resources: Fact Sheets: Global Gag Rule
  2. ^ Statement released after the President rescinds "Mexico City Policy" (, 1-25-09)
  3. ^ Bush, George. W. (January 22, 2001). Restoration of the Mexico City Policy. Retrieved September 29, 2007.
  4. ^ Cincotta, R. P. & Crane, B. B. (2001). The Mexico City Policy and U.S. Family Planning Assistance. Science, 294(5542), 525 - 526. doi:10.1126/science.1063403. Retrieved September 29, 2007.
  5. ^ US Policy Statement for the International Conference on Population. (1984). Population and Development Review, 10(3), 574-579. Retrieved September 29, 2007.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ Robinson, B.A. (April 27, 2007). U.S. "Mexico City" policy: Abortion funding in foreign countries. Retrieved September 29, 2007.
  8. ^ Values Voter Presidential Debate, September 17, 2007
  9. ^ Motluk, Alison. (October 6, 2004). "US abortion policy: A healthy strategy for whom?." New Scientist. Retrieved September 29, 2007.
  10. ^ Clinton, William J. (January 22, 1993).AID Family Planning Grants/Mexico City Policy. Retrieved September 29, 2007.
  11. ^ "Senate lifts foreign family-planning funds ban." (September 7, 2007). MSNBC News. Retrieved September 29, 2007.
  12. ^ 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. Retrieved September 29, 2007.
  13. ^ a b Population Action International. (June 1, 2004). "How the Global Gag Rule Undermines U.S. Foreign Policy and Harms Women's Health." Retrieved October 1, 2007.
  14. ^ 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." Retrieved September 29, 2007.
  15. ^ Center for Reproductive Rights. (July 2003). The Bush Global Gag Rule: Endangering Women’s Health, Free Speech and Democracy." Retrieved September 29, 2007.
  16. ^ National Organization for Women. (July 19, 2007). "Six Years of the Global Gag Rule have Weakened Women's Access to Reproductive Health Care." Retrieved September 29, 2007.
  17. ^ Illingworth, Betsy. (January 18, 2005). "The Global Gag Rule." Retrieved September 29, 2007.
  18. ^ Intra European Forum on Population and Development. (2004). "Funding cuts from the USA." Retrieved September 29, 2007.
  19. ^ National Committee for a Human Life Amendment. (October 28, 2002). Fact Sheet: The Mexico City Policy. Retrieved September 29, 2007.
  20. ^ Lopez, Kathryn Jean. (June 21, 2007 ). "This Mexican Policy Is a Keeper." National Review. Retrieved September 29, 2007.
  21. ^ United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. (n.d.). Fact Sheet: "The Mexico City Policy". Retrieved September 29, 2007.
  22. ^ ""Family Planning - An Exercise in Doublespeak." (September 09, 2004). Retrieved September 29, 2007.
  23. ^ "Obama reverses Bush abortion-funds policy" by Associated Press Writers Liz Sidoti and Matthew Lee Fri Jan 23, 2009 6:29 pm ET. Via Yahoo!News. Retrieved 2-1-09.
  24. ^ "EXCLUSIVE: Mexico City Policy will NOT be Overturned TODAY by President Obama January 22, 2009" CBN News by David Brody. Retrieved 2-1-09.
  25. ^ The Vatican Slams Obama Over Abortion
  26. ^ [1]
  27. ^ "European Parliament Votes To Fund Abortions Overseas." (February 14, 2003). Catholic World News. Retrieved September 29, 2007.
  28. ^ European Parliament. (January 13, 2004). Health issues and poverty reduction.
  29. ^ Castle, Stephen. (February 5, 2001). "Europe to fund US abortion shortfall." The Independent. Retrieved September 29, 2007.
  30. ^ a b United Nations Population Fund. (n.d.). 34 Million Friends Campaign: Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved September 29, 2007.
  31. ^ Smith, Chris. (n.d.). ""The United Nations Population Fund Helps China Persecute Women and Kill Children." Retrieved September 29, 2007.
  32. ^ National Committee for a Human Life Amendment. (January 18, 2005). Funding UNFPA: China's Coercive Population Control Program. Retrieved September 29, 2007.
  33. ^ Marquis, Christopher. (July 17, 2004). "U.S. Cuts Off Financing Of U.N. Unit For 3rd Year." The New York Times. Retrieved September 29, 2007.
  34. ^ "Contraception motion defeated." (March 23, 2010). CBC News.
  35. ^ "'Squid Pro Quo' Episode Summary." (n.d.) Retrieved September 29, 2007.
  36. ^ The "West Wing", Season 4 Episode 18

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