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Abortion access

U.S. "Mexico City" policy:
Abortion funding in foreign countries

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Sponsored link.

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Ironically, the city for which this policy was named, Mexico City, Mexico, legalized abortions upon request in 2007-APR for women in their first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

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President Reagan created the "Mexico City policy." It prohibits aid being given to international family planning organizations that provided abortion counseling, -- or provide abortions, or which advocated abortion access -- in as little as one country. They are blacklisted and receive no funds at all -- even for family planning counseling unrelated to abortion elsewhere in the world. The ban was suspended by President Clinton, reinstated by President Bush, and then partially suspended by President Bush.

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1984: Background on the "Mexico City Policy":

In 1984, during a United Nations International Conference on Population in Mexico City, President Reagan announced a ban on U.S. government financial support for certain U.S. and foreign family planning agencies -- those that were involved in any way with the provision of abortion in foreign countries. 1 He did this by way of an executive order. This ban totally removed all U.S. government funding from international agencies which:

bullet Provided abortions anywhere in the world.
bullet Provided abortion counseling anywhere in the world.
bullet Advocated for women's abortion access anywhere in the world.

Thus, an agency's funding might be cut off from its contraceptive/family planning counseling services in one country if it had any abortion activity in the same or in another country. Reagan's rationale was that even if an agency involved in both family planning and abortion were given funding only for their family planning functions, that it would release funds within the organization for their abortion activity.

This executive order has since been called the Mexico City policy. "During the 9 years that the ban was in effect, funding increased substantially for USAID population planning assistance, and 350 private, foreign organizations received aid." 2 International Planned Parenthood Federation, and a few other agencies, refused to conform to the Mexico City policy. They continued to direct part of their budget to abortion provision, and to political activity to advocate for access to abortion. They were denied all U.S. government funding. However, in an apparent response to the funding cuts, the European Union, the UK, Sweden and Switzerland have increased their funding levels to compensate.

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1997: Opposition to the funding ban:

Those opposed to the Mexico City policy argue that its main effect is to remove funding from family planning programs around the world. This increases the unwanted pregnancy rate. That inevitably causes an increase in the number of abortions. Thus the policy would appear to negate its own goals. Legislators who favored a lifting on the funding ban stated in a 1997 joint resolution of Congress that "Giving funds to private foreign organizations that perform abortions with the requirement that they use those funds on pregnancy prevention programs is going to reduce the number of abortions that are performed. Years of experience in Latin America, in Eastern Europe, and countries in other areas confirms this fact. Further proof is now coming from Russia. Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, contraceptives were not widely available in Russia, and the average number of abortions that a Russian woman had was seven. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, contraceptive use has increased by 5 percent, and the abortion rate has dropped by a dramatic 800,000 per year. It does not matter if the groups dispensing contraceptives perform abortions or not--all that matters is that pregnancies are prevented, which results in fewer abortions being performed." 2 

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1997: Support for the funding ban:

Legislators who favored continuing the funding ban deny that contraceptive usage and abortion numbers are related. They stated in a 1997 joint resolution of Congress that: "This vote is about taxpayer funding of abortions in other countries and of lobbying other countries to overturn their pro-life laws. Any claim to the contrary is intellectually dishonest...The United States has no business funding elective abortions in other countries, especially when the world opinion is that abortion should never, ever be promoted as a method of birth control; the United States has no business funding abortions in countries in violation of those countries laws; the United States has no business paying for organizations to pressure countries to adopt pro-abortion laws in violation of the deeply held cultural and religious beliefs of their citizenry." They made this statement even though not one dollar would flow from the Federal Government to any non-governmental organization anywhere in the world, to fund an abortion, or provide abortion counseling, or support the advocacy of abortion access.

The legislators argued that abortion rates are primarily influenced by improvements in the economy and increases in personal freedom: "During the 1980s, under President Reagan's and President Bush's leadership, nearly all of Latin America moved from dictatorships to free-market democracies, and the Soviet Empire collapsed. Those countries that have had the greatest amount of economic progress and the greatest increase in personal freedom have had the largest decline in the abortion rates. This change can be seen very dramatically in Russia; our colleagues totally ignore the democratic and economic gains that Russia has been making when looking at the huge decline in the abortion rate; they instead attribute it entirely to the fact that contraceptive use has gone up by 5 percent to roughly 24 percent."

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1993: Repeal of the funding ban:

President Clinton felt that private, foreign organizations should be able to receive USAID funding for that part of their programs that involved pregnancy prevention, even though they used their funds raised elsewhere to finance abortions or to appeal for abortion reform. On 1993-JAN-22, his second day in office, he rescinded the executive order. Ever since that time, pro-life supporters in Congress have been trying to pass legislation that would permanently enshrine Reagan's executive order into law. 

"In 1995 Congress passed a foreign aid bill reinstituting the Mexico City policy. President Clinton vetoed that bill. The eventual comprise...was to provide $378.75 million [for family planning services]." 2 This was equal to 65 percent of the funding level for 1995.

In 1999, social conservatives were able to attach a ban in an annual spending bill. President Clinton signed it into law. In 2000, they were again able to include the ban in the 15 billion dollar Foreign Operations bill. In what Ken Connor of the Family Research Council called "election-year jockeying," the Republican leadership and President Clinton reached a compromise: the ban on funding would automatically expire on 2001-FEB-15. That would give the next president an opportunity to let the ban die, or to extend it by executive order.

Judie Brown, president of the American Life League was not impressed by the compromise. She said: "When Clinton took office eight years ago, one of the first things that he did was to undo the Mexico City policy. And the pro-life majority in the House, at least, made a concerted effort to put it back in and to maintain it. And now, all of the sudden, eight years later, they are imitating Clinton."

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2001: Reinstatement of the funding ban:

On 2001-JAN-22, during his first day in office, President George W. Bush reinstated the funding ban for family planning programs run by agencies that also provide abortion services out of their own funds. His rationale was somewhat confusing. He wrote to the U.S. Agency for International Development: "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." But no such funds have ever been granted. Existing legislation prevents foreign grants from being used to fund abortions or provide abortion counseling.

The Planned Parenthood Federation suggested that this decision will increase the number of abortions performed worldwide. By crippling agencies whose main function is disseminating birth control information, the number of pregnancies in the Third World will probably escalate rapidly, causing women to search out local abortion providers.

Reaction was swift:

bullet Ann Stone, chairperson of Republicans for Choice said: "He's supposed to be measuring for drapes on his first day, not interfering with women's rights. To start out like this makes us very sad."
bullet Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the pro-life National Right to Life Committee said: "The U.S. government will no longer be using taxpayer dollars to try to legalize abortion in countries in Latin America, Africa, and Muslim countries in which the people are strongly opposed to abortion and believe in the protection of unborn children.
bullet Kate Michelman, president of the National Abortion and Reproductive and Reproduction Rights Action League said that President Bush: "has made it clear that he will use his presidential powers to undermine the reproductive rights of the world's women...This should serve as a wake-up call to anyone who thought Bush would not be a threat to a woman's right to choose."

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2003: President Bush partly abandons Mexico City policy:

On 2003-JAN-28, President George W Bush announced his AIDS relief plan for Africa and the Caribbean in his JAN-28 State of the Union address. He did not describe the program in detail at that time. Some lawmakers subsequently asked  Secretary of State Colin L. Powell about the funding, in view of the "Mexico City" policy that Bush has reinstated. The proposal is to authorize the distribution of $15 billion dollars over the next five years to 12 African countries, Haiti, and Guyana -- nations with some of the highest rates of AIDS infection. The money would not fund abortions or abortion counseling. However it would go to some non-governmental organizations which also have additional, unfunded, programs which provide abortion counseling. The president was faced with a moral conflict:

bullet If he denied funding to those groups, then countless numbers of additional people would die from AIDS. This is because in many African and Caribbean nations, family planning services, abortions, and AIDS assistance are often provided by a single agency. Banning of all funding to such groups would cripple AIDS programs.
bullet If he granted funding, then no money would go to fund abortions, or to provide abortion counseling, or to advocate abortion access legislation. But some funding would support anti-AIDS programs by organizations in one country, even though the same organization also conducted family planning activities that included abortion counseling in another country. 3 Meanwhile, an estimated 7 million new AIDS infections would be prevented, and two million HIV-infected people would receive with advanced antiretroviral treatment.

An anonymous senior White House aide said: "Any agency that provides treatment for AIDS will get the money - as long as none of the funds are used for family planning purposes or for abortions - except in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is in danger." 4

Reaction was interesting:

bullet The editor of Covenant said: "This International Family Planning funding could very possibly make Republican G.W. Bush the biggest baby murderer in the history of the world." 5
bullet One unidentified Democratic congressional staffer who works for a pro-choice lawmaker called Bush's policy shift as "a welcomed change from their position on family planning funds."
bullet The Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-FAM) commented: "So far, social conservatives, an important constituency for President Bush, have voiced qualified support for the AIDS program. But this support will likely fade if the program is destined to become a funding engine for the international pro-abortion movement." 6

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  1. Pete Winn, "Congress jettisons 'Mexico City' Policy,"  Focus on the Family, at:  
  2. "Foreign population aid & abortion (Mexico City Policy), Joint resolution passed 53 - 46," at:
  3. Richard Stevenson, "Bush Eases Ban on AIDS Money to Pro-Abortion Groups Abroad," New York Times, 2003-FEB-15, at:
  4. Edwin Chen, "Bush alters stance on AIDS funding restrictions: Turnabout on policy affects overseas service agencies," Los Angeles Times, 2003-FEB-16, at:
  5. Temporary message posted by Covenant on 2003-FEB-22 at:
  6. "Abortion Groups Seek to Hijack Bush's AIDS Budget,", 2003-FEB-23, at:

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Copyright 2000 to 2004 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-OCT-27
Latest update: 2007-APR-27
Author: B.A. Robinson

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