A Reinstated “Mexico City” Abortion Policy Could Impact International Nonprofits

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December 6, 2016; Minnesota Public Radio 

Enforcement of the regulation popularly called the “Mexico City Policy” has vacillated since President Ronald Reagan instated it in 1984. The rule specifically prohibits international charities from promoting abortion as a method of family planning even if that “promotion” simply entails a physician engaging in a conversation about the option of abortion with a patient. Subsequent presidents have gone back and forth on the policy’s status, but with the impending inauguration of President-elect Trump, reproductive rights activists are gearing up for an attack on domestic and international abortion care, including the potential for the restoration—once again—of this global regulation on reproductive rights.

A common misconception of the policy is that depending on the president’s political leaning at the time, it either bans or allows foreign aid to fund abortions in developing countries. That particular rule, known as the Helms Amendment, was adopted by Congress in 1973 and has been in effect ever since. It does not play a part in the Mexico City Policy. What the Mexico City policy does factor in, however, is the expectation, first implemented in 1984 and last rescinded in 2009, that groups overseas in receipt of federal funds “agree as a condition [of their funding to] neither perform nor actively promote abortion as a method of family planning” even if they do so with their own funds or non-U.S. funds. Its critics have dubbed this expectation, the “Global Gag Rule.”

The consequence of restricting the discussion of abortion between providers and patients is significant. In the foreign nations where the rule will likely yet again be imposed during a Trump administration, family planning is a critical component of the range of health services offered. While the rule does allow for exceptions in cases of rape, incest, and saving the life of the mother, it dismisses the physical and mental health conditions of any woman who may want to consider abortion in her menu of family planning choices. According to abortion rights leaders, it is nothing short of a threat against women’s health and reproductive freedom across the globe.

The Mexico City Policy, a decision historically left solely to the Executive Branch rather than a vote in Congress, has endured a game of political Ping-Pong for more than 30 years now, causing disruptions in the long-range operational planning and provision of care to clients for the international organizations that are severely impacted by the seesawing decisions of the U.S. government. The Global Gag Rule is “un-American in the most basic way,” as Wendy Turnbull, Senior Advisor for International Advocacy at PAI, explains. “[It] interferes with free speech, democracy, and access to services.”

President-elect Trump’s cabinet nominations, policy stances, and overall demeanor as he makes his way to the White House have increasingly invoked a call for civil action. The executive decisions he will inevitably make with regard to reproductive rights in particular, including the Mexico City Policy, do not beg the question of “will he or won’t he” but rather how we, as a people and sector, will respond when he does.—Lindsay Walker