One year ago, President Trump reinstituted and expanded the Mexico City Policy, widening a ban on funding for NGOs that are involved in abortion—a ban that could shift tens of millions of dollars away from groups like the International Planned Parenthood Federation.
Backers and foes of the policy have voiced their views on the Trump administration’s expanded limitations on grants to international organizations promoting or providing abortion.
Greg Schleppenbach, associate director of the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told CNA the policy is needed “because the agenda of many organizations receiving U.S. population aid has been to promote abortion as an integral part of family planning — even in developing nations where abortion is against the law.”
“Abortion proponents assert that this policy is nothing more than powerful U.S. politicians forcing their policies on poor nations. But, frankly, the opposite is true,” Schleppenbach said, adding that the the policy “ensures that NGOs, as grantees of U.S. funds, will not themselves force their abortion ideology on countries without permissive abortion laws.”
The Reagan-era Mexico City Policy takes its name from the location of the 1984 United Nations conference on population and development, where the funding ban was announced. The policy was repealed by Bill Clinton in 1993, reinstated by George W. Bush in 2001, repealed by Barack Obama in 2009, and again reinstated by President Donald Trump when he took office.
President Trump, who had not promised to implement the Mexico City Policy during his campaign, signed the executive order on Jan. 23, 2017. He instructed the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to expand the Mexico City Policy, now called “Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance” because of its increased scope. When fully implemented, it would apply to over $8.8 billion in foreign aid for global health assistance. By comparison, the previous version of the policy affected $600 million in U.S. aid for family planning programs.
Foes of the policy characterize it as a “gag rule.”
In January 2017, before the policy’s expansion, a spokesperson for International Planned Parenthood Federation said the organization could lose $100 million in annual funding for its non-abortion services. On Thursday Marie Stopes International, a U.K.-based abortion and contraceptive services provider, has estimated its own funding shortfall at $80 million, about 17 percent of its income from donations.
“Unless we can fill the $80 million gap created by the global gag rule, it will deprive millions of women of the contraception they need to prevent an unintended pregnancy, and it is the world’s poorest women and girls who will bear the brunt,” said Marjorie Newman-Williams, Marie Stopes’ vice president and director of external affairs.
Marie Stopes claimed the lost resources would result in 2.5 million unintended pregnancies, 870,000 unsafe abortions, and 6,900 maternal deaths.
The new policy could affect 1,275 foreign NGOs and about $2.2 billion in global health funding, the Kaiser Family Foundation has said.
Schleppenbach, however, said critics made “the same dire predictions” about widespread harm to global health care services in 2001 when President George W. Bush reinstated the policy. He thought such claims were “dishonest and sad.”
Past experience with the policy “provides little to no credible evidence to support claims that the policy will lead to dramatic adverse health consequences,” Schleppenbach said.
“The vast majority of Americans reject abortion as healthcare and do not want their tax dollars used for programs that promote or provide abortion as a method of family planning,” said Schleppenbach. He said the expanded policy aligns foreign aid with Americans’ views, and with other laws limiting funding for abortion and abortion providers, like the Helms Amendment and like the Kemp-Kasten Amendment, which bars funding for organizations determined to be involved in coercive abortion or sterilization.
The NGO Human Rights Watch has advocated congressional action as a long-term strategy to provide “stability” to U.S. global health assistance.
“It is disruptive and counterproductive to the global health community to have the U.S. policy on foreign assistance change dramatically from one presidential administration to the next,” the NGO said in June 2017.
The organization advocated passage of the Global Health, Empowerment, and Rights Act, whose shortened name is the Global HER Act, which would permanently revoke the policy. Other backers of this legislation include Amnesty International.
Chuck Donovan, president of the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the Susan B. Anthony List’s research arm, also backed the Trump administration’s policy, saying it “reflects the wishes of the American people who time and again have indicated they do not want their tax dollars used to provide abortions either domestically or overseas.”
He said that because some nations increase their funding for such programs when U.S. funding is cut, it is difficult to know how many millions of dollars are used for such campaigns.
The She Decides NGO was launched by the Dutch government to encourage donors to replace the funding cut by the Mexico City Policy. About $450 million has been raised from country donors, especially European governments, and private donors such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In July, Melinda Gates announced the foundation would boost family planning funding by 60 percent, another $375 million over the next four years, the U.K. newspaper The Guardian reports.
Lilianne Ploumen, former Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation for the Netherlands, founded She Decides. Ploumen was the focus of controversy upon news that she had been awarded the Order of St. Gregory the Great. The honor was later described by a Holy See press officer as simply a matter of protocol during a visit of the Dutch royal family, not an endorsement of Ploumen’s abortion views.
The pushback against the Mexico City Policy itself has funders, including the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. Two $1 million grants from each foundation aim to track the policy’s effects in Kenya and Nepal through a research project based at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.
The Heilbrunn Department of Population and Family Health at the school announced the research project and the grants which funded it Nov. 29, 2017, while the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute reported on the grants in December.
Another $500,000, four-year grant from the Hewlett Foundation to the Guttmacher Institute backs a “large-scale, multi-country study” on the Mexico City Policy’s impact on “sexual and reproductive health funding, services, and outcomes” in Ethiopia, Ghana, and Uganda.
“Research findings will be useful for advocacy,” the foundation’s Oct. 6, 2017 grant listing said.
Since 2001, the Hewlett Foundation has given several million dollars to the Guttmacher Institute both for general support and support for various domestic and international projects, grant listings indicate.
The foundation is a major supporter of Planned Parenthood, giving tens of millions to the abortion provider’s local, U.S., and international affiliates. A 2015 grant listing from the Open Society Foundations indicated the Hewlett Foundation was a partner in a multi-million dollar campaign responding to investigations that appeared to implicate the abortion provider in the illegal procurement and sale of unborn baby parts and fetal tissue.