Women in Developing Countries Get Reprieve from Reagan’s Mexico City Policy

That’s how I feel right now!

The Global Gag Rule, a.k.a. the Mexico City Policy, has been repealed (again). Thanks President Obama!

Reagan first instituted this rule at a conference in Mexico City in 1984. Clinton repealed it in 1993. G.W. Bush reinstated it in 2001. And now, in 2009, it has been re-repealed.

Why so much political monkeying? That’s not hard to guess: it has to do with women. Women of color. Poor women of color. You can see there’s trouble brewing…

Here’s what this rule did: “In order to be eligible for family planning funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), NGOs may not use their own funds to provide any services related to abortion, including counseling or referrals, even if abortion is legal in their country. They also may not lobby to make or keep abortion legal in their own country.”

To let you know how much money is at stake, USAID’s 2009 budget allocates almost $7 billion to health and AIDS initiatives.

And, Did You Know, there’s already an earlier law (1973) called the Helms Amendment in place forbidding the use of US funds to pay for abortion in other countries.

So what the Mexico City Policy means is…

1. Even if a clinic or agency uses its own funds (i.e. from other sources) for counseling, referrals, or performing abortion or providing post-abortion care, they will get all their USAID funding cut.

2. Since the USAID funding already wasn’t going to abortion, when USAID funding gets cut, all the health programs at the affected clinics are hurt: pre- & post-natal care, birth control availability, HIV/AIDS work, etc.

3. If a clinic accepts USAID funds under the Mexico City Policy, they cannot be honest with their patients about all the reproductive options available to them. They can’t even refer their patients to another clinic that does, because that would be an abortion referral. Their patients no longer have a choice.

4. Staff at clinics and agencies who accept USAID funds under the MCP cannot speak publicly about the need for legal and safe abortion. They cannot lobby against laws that criminalize all abortion or imprison women who have abortions. This is why women’s advocates call it the Global Gag Rule.

Of course, all of this was taking place in developing countries until today, when Obama repealed this nonsense. What a bunch of political hooey- a crappy policy that doesn’t actually lower the rate of abortion, but does harm reproductive-age women, their children, HIV/AIDS sufferers, and their communities, all for the sake of self-righteous political posturing.

Here’s what women in developing countries have said about the effects of the MCP:

“I think they are killing these women, just as if they are pointing a gun and shooting. There is no difference,” said Hilary Fyfe, chair of the Family Life Movement of Zambia. Her organization opposes abortion, but still lost approximately $30,000 in U.S. funds for telling adolescents and young adults that unsafe and potentially fatal abortions are one possible consequence of unprotected sex and unwanted pregnancies.

“In one breath the U.S. is telling my government to promote human rights, good governance. In the other breath it says take away the rights of women to know about all the issues that surround their reproductive health and one of [these issues] will be abortion.”
— Nkandu Luo, Former Minister of Health of Zambia, Society for Women and AIDS in Zambia

“My country has the third highest maternal mortality rate in the region. I cannot even discuss this with legislators in my country due to the global gag rule. And of course I am unable even to stand here in your country — where you so value free speech — and discuss openly the reasons that high maternal mortality and unsafe abortion rates continue to impact so many Peruvian women. I do not want to endanger funding for the thousands of women our project is serving”
— Susana Galdos Silva, co-founder of Movimiento Manuela Ramos and executive director of ReproSalud

“In the case of family planning services, prenatal and postnatal care, these services used to be available for a low cost. After the gag rule, people paid more. It is definitely some of the very poor and economically weak who are affected.”
— Staff, Nepalese NGO

“It is one thing what the law says—it is another thing altogether how it is interpreted and applied…I’m afraid to even mention the term ‘sexual health,’ forget even ‘sexual rights,’ because no one knows how this will be interpreted.”
— Asociación Dominicana Pro-Bienestar de la Familia spokeswoman, Dominican Republic

“The Global Gag Rule does not make sense. It is not applied to the United States. Instead, it is applied to countries that are the poorest … that have the highest rates of maternal mortality.”
— Staff, Kenyan government agency

Health and family planning clinics have shut down or reduced services in Latin America, Asia and Africa because of this rule. It might seem neat to pander to a certain set of single-issue voters by misrepresenting this issue (since 1973 US law has forbade US funds being used for abortion overseas). However, those who feel the effects are the poorest of the world’s poor who desperately need the services available at these clinics, including children. Would supporters of the MCP still support it if they truly understood its real-world effects?

Obama has done the right thing. But will it only stand until the next Republican president has a “base” to pander to?

Information and quotes obtained at:
Population Action International

Women’s Enews

Planned Parenthood


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