The Importance of the Mexico City Policy

Testimony of Cathleen A. Cleaver, Esq.

Director of Planning and Information
Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
before the
Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Dirksen Senate Office Building, Room 419
July 19, 2001, 10:00 a.m.

Chairman Boxer, Members of the Committee, I am grateful for the opportunity to present testimony today on the importance of the Mexico City Policy.

As Director of Planning and Information for the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, I have the privilege of playing a role in the Church's mission to teach and deepen respect for all human life, especially the most vulnerable members of the human family – the poor, the unborn, the disabled, and the dying.

The "Mexico City Policy" is the most significant policy initiative on abortion taken by the United States in the area of foreign assistance in the last twenty years. To state it clearly: the Mexico City Policy simply requires non-governmental organizations receiving U.S. aid to refrain from performing or promoting abortion as a method of family planning in developing nations.

We commend President Bush for reinstating this important policy.

The argument has been made by abortion proponents that the Mexico City Policy is nothing more than "powerful" U.S. politicians forcing their policies on poor nations. But, frankly, the opposite is true. First, the policy forces nothing: Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) may choose to apply for U.S. tax funds, and to be eligible, they must refrain from abortion activity. On the other hand, NGOs may choose to do abortions or to lobby foreign nations to change their laws which restrict abortion, and if they choose that path they render themselves ineligible for U.S. money. As we saw last time the policy was in place, only two out of hundreds of organizations elected to forfeit the U.S. money for which they were otherwise eligible. (1) But it was and will be entirely their choice.

Far from forcing a policy on poor nations, the Mexico City Policy ensures that NGOs will not themselves force their abortion ideology on countries without permissive abortion laws in the name of the United States as U.S. grantees.

And as we have learned from our experience in international conferences on population, it is not the Mexico City Policy but the United States' promotion of permissive abortion attitudes through funding of such programs that is likely to cause resentment.(2) This is especially true when it is perceived as a means by which the West is attempting to impose population control policies on developing nations as conditions for development assistance.

The Mexico City Policy is needed because the agenda of many organizations receiving U.S. population aid has been to promote abortion as an integral part of family planning – even in developing nations where abortion is against the law.(3) So, far from being perceived as an imposition on developing nations, the Mexico City Policy against funding abortion programs has been greeted by those nations as a welcome reform. The vast majority of these countries have legal policies against abortion, and virtually all forbid the use of abortion as merely another method of birth control.(4)

Moreover, the Mexico City Policy is remarkably "mainstream." The vast majority of Americans do not want their tax dollars used for programs that promote or provide abortion as a method of family planning. The Mexico City Policy simply brings American foreign aid policy back in line with the views of the American people.

Finally, some opponents of the Mexico City Policy are fond of using the slogan "Global Gag Rule" to refer to the policy, and that is a smart public relations move. But it doesn't reflect reality. The truth of the matter is: Poor women in developing nations are not calling for help to abort their children. They are calling for food, housing, and medicine for themselves and their children so that they can lead lives of full human dignity. With the Mexico City Policy in place the United States can best respond to their pleas, and respond with respect for their personal dignity and their humanity.

Thank you.

End Notes

  1. The London-based International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) received approximately $17 million from the U.S. Agency for International Development (U.S. AID) in 1984 but forfeited all its federal funding under the Mexico City Policy. Approximately 57 IPPF affiliates worldwide agreed to the Policy and continued to receive U.S. funds. Planned Parenthood Federation of America also refused to agree to the limitations resulting in the cessation of its grant of approximately $18 million in 1990. According to U.S. AID congressional testimony, approximately 400 NGOs were receiving funds under the Mexico City Policy terms in 1991. Congressional Record, June 12, 1991, H4336-4338. U.S. AID testified that, under the Mexico City Policy, the United States provided "about 45 percent of all international family planning assistance in more than 100 countries . . . 85 of those coutnries were developing countries." Congressional Record, June 12, 1991, H4338.
  2. In 1985, the U.S. Agency for International Development told Congress:" Abortion is a controversial issue in many countries, especially those with large Catholic or Moslem populations. The U.S. has been criticized in developing countries for its funding of groups (such as IPPF and some of its affiliates) which perform abortions with their own funds . . . The Administration believes that it is important to avoid the damage to U.S. interests which results from the belief it supports abortion."   The Program of Action of the 1994 United Nations International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo reaffirmed the position first adopted by United Nations delegates at the 1984 Mexico City population conference: "In no case should abortion be promoted as a method of family planning."
  3. Perhaps one of the most striking examples of this was seen in a 1983 resolution signed by then-PPFA President Faye Wattleton: "Family Planning Associations and other nongovernmental organizations should not use the absence of a law or the existence of an unfavorable law as an excuse for inaction; action outside the law, and even in violation of it is part of the process of stimulating change."
  4. In 1984 the laws of only 5 of 126 less developed nations permitted abortion upon request, and only 8 permitted abortion for socio-economic reasons. Concise Report on the World Population Situation in 1983, Department of International Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations (Population Studies No. 85)(New York 1984). In 1994 the United Nations reported that abortion upon request and abortion for socio-economic reasons was legal in only 12 of 133 developing nations. Today, approximately half of the developing nations allow abortion only to protect the mother's life or in cases where the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest. Virtually all prohibit the use of abortion as a method of birth control. (A. Rahman, L. Katzive and S. Henshaw, "A Global Review of Laws on Induced Abortion, 1985-1997," International Family Planning Perspectives, vol. 24 no. 2, June 1998).