I will leave it to you to assign a value judgment over whether the Mexico City Policy is good or bad for people in the U.S. The policy is an executive order that stops international aid funds to any organization that offers abortion as an option when counseling women during routine appointments. Ronald Reagan first issued the policy during a UN Population Conference in Mexico City in 1984, thus its name.
Abortion rights supporters have called the policy the “global gag rule” because it targets counseling, making abortion something that cannot be spoken about by organizations and their employees. For anti-abortion and abortion rights activists, however, the Mexico City Policy is intimately tied to domestic abortion politics. Presidential hopefuls pledge to re-instate or repeal the policy in order to win over an anti-abortion or abortion rights voter base within their parties. Perhaps more importantly, it is a campaign pledge that a president can easily fulfill in the first week of office with an executive order that he or she can release on or around the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, giving greater symbolic weight to the policy. Since 1984 Republican presidents have re-instated the Mexico City Policy while Democratic presidents have repealed it.
The Mexico City Policy is intimately tied to domestic abortion politics.
The intent of the Mexico City Policy is to go after abortion access by targeting provision, or what anti-abortion activists refer to as the “the abortion industry.” After Roe v. Wade in 1973, a number of anti-abortion activists began to argue that the legal status of a zygote, embryo or fetus and whether and when abortion constituted a murder – matters that the movement had a difficult time agreeing on -- perhaps mattered less than whether abortions were available to women. If activists could make it as difficult as possible for a woman to terminate a pregnancy under the confines of the law, they could unite to save more embryonic and fetal lives. Stopping government funding of abortion became a pivotal strategy to blocking access to abortion because activists also felt that taxpayers money should not support abortion. The first policy to cut abortion funding was the Helms Amendment, which stopped government funding of abortion procedures abroad. Passed by Congress in 1973, the Helms Amendment has been in effect since 1974. In 1976 Congress passed the Hyde Amendment cutting off the use of federal funds to subsidize abortions in the United States.
The Mexico City Policy in 1984 marked a new departure in the abortion funding battles. Rather than go after funding of the actual abortion procedure, activists went after the organizations that provided abortions by targeting funding of counseling. This decision to target abortion providers abroad is mirrored today in the current anti-abortion campaign to defund Planned Parenthood at home. Going after abortion providers rather than abortion procedures often means going after organizations that offer the most comprehensive reproductive health care services to lower income men and women at home and abroad. These services include cancer screenings, sexually transmitted infections tests, insertions of IUDs and counseling for oral contraceptives.
When a president re-instates the Mexico City Policy, reproductive healthcare organizations abroad that offer abortions and are currently receiving U.S. aid funds face three choices. First, organizations can refuse U.S. aid funds, which often constitute a significant percentage of their operating budget, and continue to offer abortion as an option to women in counseling. Second, organizations can offer abortions but not notify women of the service during counseling sessions, a creative workaround that can call into question their medical ethics and theoretically lessen the chance that women will chose to terminate their pregnancies. Finally, organizations can re-structure in order to stop providing abortions, an expensive and time consuming process they may face again in four years after another presidential election. Whatever they chose, thousands of women abroad find that their access to reproductive health care changes as a result of U.S. domestic politics.
- Pro-choice and pro-life demonstrators clash outside the US Supreme Court (pic: Wikimedia Commons)
The Mexico City Policy perhaps has its most direct impact on U.S. citizens who work for those health organizations and non-profits abroad. Depending on how the organization they work for responds to the repeal or re-instatement of the Mexico City Policy, these U.S. citizens – regardless of where they stand on the abortion divide -- can lose their jobs or face an ethical dilemma. On one hand, U.S. citizens who work for foreign aid organizations that push natural family planning may find they no longer have a job when Democratic administrations re-direct U.S. foreign aid funds and grants to organizations that offer all reproductive health options to women. On the other hand, U.S. citizens who support abortion rights may find it morally reprehensible not to be able to offer abortion as an option when counseling a woman through a crisis pregnancy that resulted from rape.
Thousands of women abroad find that their access to reproductive health care changes as a result of U.S. domestic politics.
Since the Mexico City Policy targets reproductive health care services and counseling, its impact is also broader than first imagined. What exactly counts as “counseling”? Organizations that fight AIDs and other sexually transmitted infections grapple with the policy when drafting educational and promotional materials as well as environmental, humanitarian and government organizations that seek to curb human population growth. These latter organizations look to make reproductive health care more available, especially oral contraceptives and abortion, because studies have shown that when women and their partners have a choice, they chose to have fewer children. Many international organizations think that curbing population growth will lead to better conditions for humans already living, ensure national security and international stability, and/or fight global warming.
Now that you know a little more about it, it’s up to you whether you think the Mexico City Policy is a good or bad policy for people in the U.S.