How will the Mexico City Policy affect women in developing countries?

U.S. President Donald Trump signed a presidential memorandum on 23 January 2017 that prohibits organizations promoting abortion through advocacy, abortion counseling, or referrals from receiving U.S. development funding. In response, many have claimed that women’s health and well-being will be harmed, as many organizations that promote abortion also provide less controversial services. Numerous large international organisations have claimed that this policy will cause a funding gap of more than $600 million, stating that this gap in their funding will affect breast cancer examinations, Zika, pre- and post-natal care, medical assistance to pregnant women, contraception, HIV testing, and medications, etc.

In response to this claim, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, supported by Sweden and Belgium, launched an international fund to support organisations whose support for abortion makes them ineligible for official U.S. development assistance. Despite the lack of an official position on abortion at the EU level, we’re experiencing significant political pressure for European countries and the European Union to fund abortion-supporting and abortion-promoting organisations that are ineligible for United States public funding.

Should Europe support abortion providers and abortion-supportive organisations? How is women’s health care in developing countries going to be affected by the new rule? We’ll skip the ideology and take an objective look at the reality of the Mexico City Policy and its consequences.

What is the Mexico City Policy or the “global gag rule”?

The Mexico City Policy is an executive order on foreign aid policy made by the President of the United States that limits US federal funding to organisations that do not provide abortion or abortion counseling and referrals, engage in public advocacy to decriminalise abortion or expand abortion services.

Organisations that receive funding from the US must agree to neither perform abortions nor promote it as a method of family planning in other nations. It should be noted that this was in fact agreed at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, which is the most important international document agreed on reproductive health, in 1994.

What does this change in U.S. foreign aid services funded? How is reproductive health going to be affected?

The United States has allocated US$9.27 billion to health aid overall for Fiscal Year 2017. These planned expenditures remain intact; no funds will be withdrawn from foreign aid or from any specific service. The partners working with the United States implementing these policies may change but the budget allocated to it and the practices that will be funded have not changed.

Since the 1970s, the United States has had a near-total ban on federal funding for supporting the performance of abortion at the national level through the Hyde Amendment as well as at international level through the Helm Amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act.

How does this affect the recipient countries?

Many aid recipient countries have much more restrictive laws on abortion than both the United States and the Member States of the European Union. Some of the most contentious arguments during negotiations at the United Nations are about the inclusion of reproductive rights as a way to promote abortion. Many countries from global south have pushed for the inclusion of a reference to the ICPD specifically because it recognizes their right to set their own abortion policies.

The greatest effect may be on major, well-funded, international (European and American) NGOs which focus on abortion advocacy. While these organisations may provide needed services, they also promote abortion on the field and politically, despite the global commitment to reducing recourse to abortion (ICPD ¶ 7.24). American official development assistance will be redirected to other organisations, giving funding opportunities to local NGOs and projects that are in tune with the real health needs and priorities of local communities.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that this is simply a political campaign to push Europe to fund abortion providers and promoters in developing countries and especially abortion political advocates as all the health services will still be provided and funded by the U.S. foreign aid. Do we want Europe to focus its development policy on the provision and promotion of abortion? Do Europeans agree with taking such a stance?

In fact, the European Union does not have the competence to legislate on abortion and that focusing our development policy on measures to reduce the population of developing countries could be very badly received by our development partners. Moreover, funding the promotion and provision of abortion does not reflect the global consensus found in the ICPD Programme of Action, in which the European Member States agreed to “take appropriate steps to help women avoid abortion, which in no case should be promoted as a method of family planning.”

At the World Youth Alliance, we believe the human dignity of every human person should be respected and that the greatest resource for the development of a country is the powerful creativity of every human being. This resource is best nurtured and stewarded through education, which authentically empowers each person to contribute to development at all levels. Europe should focus on efforts to promote this authentic development, grounded in human dignity, rather than controversial policies and practices that many developing countries do not want.

Written by Antoine Mellado Director of Advocacy of World Youth Alliance Europe.