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Mexico City Policy Subject of Committee Hearing

On July 19, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing to discuss the effects of the Mexico City Policy on international family planning programs. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) chaired the hearing.

First implemented in 1984 by President Reagan at the second United Nations Conference on Population in Mexico City, the restriction prohibits nongovernmental organizations that use their own money to perform abortions abroad or lobby foreign governments on abortion policy from receiving U.S. funds. The Mexico City policy remained in effect until January 1993 when President Clinton rescinded the executive order. Since 1973, U.S. law has prohibited the use of federal funds to pay for abortions overseas.

Beginning in 1995, Congress and President Clinton continually debated the Mexico City policy and funding for international family planning programs. U.S. international family planning received a 35 percent cut from $547 million in FY1995 to $365 million in FY1996. Although the Mexico City policy was not restored at the time, a new funding restriction was imposed on international family planning programs. Congress implemented a 9-month freeze in funding, after which time funds were released over a 15-month period, with no more than 6.67 percent available in any one month.

Additionally, supporters of the Mexico City policy were successful in including the language in the FY1997, FY1998, and FY1999 foreign operations appropriations bills. With strong support from the Senate and the White House, the policy was dropped from each of those bills. Although international family planning programs received a modest increase from $365 million in FY1996 to $385 million in FY1997, funding restrictions were imposed and the programs remained level-funded through FY1999.

With the cooperation of the Clinton administration, Congress enacted a version of the Mexico City policy in FY2000, which included a presidential waiver. The restriction was written into both the FY2000 Commerce, Justice, State, and Related Agencies appropriations bill (P.L. 106-113) and the FY2000 foreign operations appropriations bill (P.L. 106-113), which were included in an omnibus spending measure. Under the restriction, organizations that used their own money to perform abortions abroad or to lobby foreign governments on abortion policy were denied U.S. aid. Lobbying was defined to include “any activity or effort to alter the laws or governmental policies of any country.”

President Clinton waived the restriction, but by doing so, the total funds available for international family planning were reduced by 3 percent. By exercising the waiver, funding was reduced from $385 million to $372.5 million in FY2000. Additionally, the total funding made available to groups using their own funds to perform abortions abroad or to lobby on abortion policy was capped at $15 million.

The restriction was not included in the FY2001 foreign operations appropriations bill (P.L. 106-429), and international family planning programs received a $40 million increase to $425 million in FY2001. However, the funding was delayed until February 15, 2001.

In January, President Bush announced he would sign an executive order reinstating the Mexico City policy: “It is my conviction that taxpayer funds should not be used to pay for abortions or to advocate or actively promote abortion, either here or abroad.”

Sen. Boxer told witnesses that “as a result, many foreign non-governmental organizations are being forced to either limit their services or simply close their doors to women across the world.” She added, “Make no mistake, the Mexico City gag rule is restricting family planning, not abortions.”

Several Members of Congress testified before the committee. Explaining his opposition to the family planning restrictions, Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) stated, “The Mexico City policy threatens, in my opinion, efforts at reducing maternal mortality rates and improving access to basic women’s health care in Nepal and all over the world.”

Sen. Tim Hutchinson (R-AR) countered, “The policy will barely change the number of NGOs receiving money….Family planning is not affected and to raise that is a red herring.”

Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) agreed: “It does not cut family planning funding.” Noting that federal courts have upheld the policy, he stated, “A strong effective family planning program should welcome a strong wall of separation.”

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) told the committee that the policy “undermines human rights” and “weakens our efforts.” She added that under the policy “only pro-choice speech is prohibited,” calling it a “dangerous double standard.”

Testifying on behalf of the administration, Assistant Secretary Alan J. Kreczko of the Department of State said, “The programs of foreign NGOs that provide or actively promote abortion are not consistent with the family planning values President Bush wants to promote as part of his foreign policy agenda.” He continued, “The Mexico City Policy seeks to clearly separate U.S. government support for family planning assistance from abortion-related activities.” Mr. Kreczko reiterated the “Administration’s strong commitment to international family planning.”

Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute told the committee that while no concrete data on maternal and infant mortality rates, as well as abortion rates, was available, he believed that assertions that the Mexico City policy has increased these rates was “misplaced.” He noted that U.S. population assistance decreased dramatically between 1996 and 2000; however, “demographic and health experts did not see an increase in maternal deaths rates, infant mortality rates, birth rates, and abortion rates.”

“The new retrictions are decidedly unlikely to have significant impact on the global levels of abortion,” he said.

However, Dr. Nirmal K. Bista of the Family Planning Association of Nepal (FPAN) noted the adverse effect the policy has had on Nepal’s family planning program. “FPAN has recently made the difficult and painful decision to refuse USAID family planning funds because of the global gag rule….It will lead to the loss of almost $250,000 in U.S. funds and it will have a major impact on our ability to continue to operate reproductive health clinics in Nepal’s three most densely populated areas,” he said.

“This is the challenge….Were we to accept the restricted U.S. funds, I would be prevented from speaking in my own country to my own government about a health care crisis I know first hand. But by rejecting U.S. funds, I put our clinics-clinics addressing the same health care crisis-in very real jeopardy,” Dr. Bista told the committee.

Cathy Cleaver of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops stated that the “Mexico City policy is needed because the agenda of family planning organizations is to promote abortion as part of their family planning programs.” She added that the “vast majority of countries” where U.S. population assistance is granted have laws prohibiting abortion.

Dr. Maria Sophia Aguirre of the Catholic University of America agreed, “Very few countries where USAID provides population assistance permit abortion under circumstances broader than those allowed under the Mexico City policy.”

Susana Galdos Silva of Movimiento Manuela Ramos in Peru noted that while abortion is illegal in Peru, her organization is actively trying to change that law. “It is estimated that every year 65,000 Peruvian women are harmed to the point of needing hospitalization due to complications of unsafe abortion,” she said. “The gag rule has taken away my freedom to speak about an important issue in my country-a serious issues that is about the life and death of women in Peru.”

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