Mexico City Policy Reinstatement and Expansion — Talking Points

By C-Fam Staff | November 30, 2017


As one of his first acts as President, Donald Trump reinstated the policy first enacted by President Ronald Reagan that blocks federal funding for NGOs that promote or provide abortions. This reinstated policy expands its coverage beyond family planning funding to all U.S. global health assistance.

The abortion lobby’s response

Abortion proponents, who refer to the Mexico City Policy (MCP) as the “global gag rule” have argued that it will endanger women’s health and prevent the provision of healthcare services to people in need. In particular, they have argued that it will prevent some 225 million women in developing countries from having access to family planning. Some have even argued that the MCP limits free speech. These arguments are false.

A closer look at the facts reveals the weakness of these arguments

First and foremost, the policy has already achieved its intended objective of weaning abortion groups off the American taxpayer’s dole. European countries, such as those in the “She Decides” initiative, have already stepped in to make up the shortfall. What is more, the European Commission has dismissed claims that the U.S. ban has a “chilling effect” on European funding of abortion.

A single study from Stanford University in 2011 is frequently cited to suggest that countries exposed to the MCP have levels of “unsafe” abortion. C-Fam analysis by Lucia Muchova, however, finds significant gaps in the data that was used in the study, as well as other flaws in the study’s methodology. Apart from this study, most arguments that the MCP causes harm to women’s health are based on anecdotal and qualitative findings, often from organizations that promote abortion and could directly benefit from its suspension.

The MCP does nothing to limit the provision of U.S. funding for family planning, which is defined as excluding abortion in both U.S. law and in an internationally negotiated agreement. However, the frequently-cited figure of 225 million women with an “unmet need” for family planning is misconstrued and misunderstood: only about 5% of those women cite cost or lack of access as the reason for not using contraceptives. Instead, most point to personal opposition, concern about health risks, or infrequent sex. Very few critiques of the MCP suggest that it will result in lost access to family planning for current users, which further suggests that the loudest voices against the MCP are more focused on advocacy for family planning (and abortion) than the provision of healthcare services.

The free speech question was raised in a lawsuit against President George W. Bush in 2002, in which the pro-abortion groups lost. In her ruling, now-Supreme Court associate justice Sonia Sotomayor found that the government “is free to favor the anti-abortion position over the pro-choice position” with public funds.

Some further points for consideration

The MCP represents an important use of the U.S.’s moral authority around the world.  Many of the policies that restrict abortion both domestically and abroad reflect a belief that abortion is the taking of innocent human life. The MCP expands on the Helms Amendment’s provisions that the U.S. will not promote abortion and asserts that we will not fund groups that do so, precisely because the act is so morally repugnant.

The MCP draws a clear line between abortion and healthcare for women.  By isolating abortion from other aspects of women’s healthcare, including maternal health, this policy sends a powerful message to patients and providers alike. A 2010 publication from Fordham Law School’s Leitner Center argued that the MCP was an obstacle to the implementation of Ethiopia’s recently liberalized abortion law. The article cites one interviewee as saying, “If abortion is a positive development for Ethiopian women’s health, then why does the U.S. government not support it?”

The MCP forces NGOs to take an affirmative stand on the abortion issue.  Some philanthropies and foundations prefer to remain neutral on the abortion issue, most notably Melinda Gates, yet they have willingly partnered with organizations that perform abortions on unrelated projects. This has the effect of providing these groups with legitimacy and access to the populations where they conduct their abortion advocacy. In contrast, the MCP leaves NGOs with a clear choice: get out of the abortion business or get your funding elsewhere.

Even with expansions, the MCP does not cover everything.  In 2011, President Barack Obama authorized the National Action Plan on Women Peace and Security, which put in place the Office of Global Women’s Issues. This office allocates funds for “gender programming,” which does not fall under the MCP. The text of the plan refers extensively to “reproductive health,” which the Obama administration defined as including abortion. Continued vigilance and possibly further executive action may be needed to keep U.S. funding from supporting the global abortion lobby.

In conclusion

The Mexico City Policy reflects the commitment to the U.S. to provide good quality healthcare as part of our foreign aid. This is best accomplished by withholding funding from groups that would hold quality care for poor women hostage to their abortion advocacy agenda, and directing that money to where it can do the most good.



1 Kristalina Georgieva, Answer on Behalf of Parliament, EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT (July 17, 2012),  See also Susan Yoshihara, Abortion and the Laws of War: Subverting Humanitarianism by Executive Edict, 9 U. St. Thomas J.L. & Pub. Pol’y 1 (2014).

2 Bendavid E, Avila Patrik, Miller G. United States aid policy and induced abortion in sub-Sahara Africa. Bulletin of the World Health Organization, Sept. 27, 2011


4 The 1973 Helms Amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act states: “No foreign assistance funds may be used to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions.”

5 The Programme of Action of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development states that abortion “in no case should be promoted as a method of family planning.”

6 Hussain R et al., Unmet Need for Contraception in Developing Countries: Examining Women’s Reasons for Not Using a Method, New York:
Guttmacher Institute, 2016.  See also Oas, R. (2016) Is There an ‘Unmet Need’ for Family Planning? The New Atlantis. 49:61-76.

7 Chi Mgbako et al., Exporting Confusion: U.S. Foreign Policy as an Obstacle to the Implementation of Ethiopia’s Liberalized Abortion