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.
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. 1He did this by way of an executive order.
This ban totally removed all U.S. government funding from international agencies
Provided abortions anywhere in the world.
Provided abortion counseling anywhere in the world.
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.
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
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
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."
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]."
2This was equal to 65 percent of the funding level for
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."
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:
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."
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
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."
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:
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.
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
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:
The editor of Covenant News.com 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
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."
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