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Presidential Executive Order on International Family Planning

On January 22, President Bush signed an executive order reinstating restrictions on U.S. aid to international family planning groups, making it one of his first executive actions after taking office on January 20.

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 The Mexico City policy remained in effect until January 1993 when President Clinton rescinded the executive order.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 will be delayed until February 15, 2001. At the time, the delay was instituted to allow the next President to decide whether restrictions should be imposed on the money.

In announcing the order, President Bush stated, “It is my conviction that taxpayer funds should not be used to pay for abortions or advocate or actively promote abortion, either here or abroad.” A statement released later that day added, “The President is committed to maintaining the $425 million funding level provided for in the FY2001 appropriation because he knows that one of the best ways to prevent abortion is by providing quality voluntary family planning services.”

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