Critics Question New Study Asserting U.S. Policy Increases Abortion in Africa

By | July 12, 2019

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 12 (C-Fam) According to a new article published in The Lancet Global Health, so-called Mexico City Policy is linked to increased abortions in sub-Saharan Africa, due to reduced contraceptive use and more unintended pregnancies.  While the policy’s critics continue to call for its removal, the full story is more complex.

The authors of the analysis concluded that “curbing US assistance to family planning organizations, especially those that consider abortion as a method of family planning,” increases abortion prevalence in the African countries they studied.  Mexico City Policy — reinstated and expanded under President Trump — under the name “Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance,” does not reduce U.S. funding for family planning or global health in general. Instead, it bars funding for foreign organizations that promote or provide abortions regardless of what other work they also do.

Indeed, relatively few organizations have refused to comply with the policy, thus foregoing U.S. funding. Most notably this includes the abortion giants International Planned Parenthood Federation and Marie Stopes International.

While Planned Parenthood and Marie Stopes certainly consider abortion as a method of family planning, this stance is in opposition to both U.S. law and international consensus. The 1973 U.S. Helms Amendment forbids funding for abortions overseas as a method of family planning, and the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development asserts, “in no circumstances should abortion be considered as a family planning method.”

The Lancet article points to the practical difficulties of reinstating and repealing Mexico City Policy every four to eight years, as has happened under Republican and Democratic administrations since Ronald Reagan’s tenure as president.  As large, politically powerful federations Planned Parenthood and Marie Stopes receive preferential funding under pro-abortion administrations. This often comes at the expense of other local health care providers which are far more likely to be compliant with Mexico City Policy.

Few would argue that the needs of people in countries receiving U.S. aid are best served by the “political football” status of the Mexico City Policy.  Pro-abortion critics repeatedly call for the policy to be permanently withdrawn.  But the policy is in support of existing U.S. law barring funding for abortion as a family planning method and is far more consonant with the agreement of the Cairo Conference than the positions taken by Planned Parenthood and Marie Stopes. It is also much more aligned with the popular views in the sub-Saharan countries examined in the Lancet article, as pointed out in an accompanying editorial.  Its authors point out that in Zambia, for example, abortion may be legal under certain circumstances, but it “is commonly understood as a moral transgression.” Many sub-Saharan African countries maintain pro-life laws, and Marie Stopes has been accused of providing illegal abortions in multiple African countries.

It could therefore be argued that permanently blocking U.S. funds to abortion groups would be consistent with U.S. priorities, international agreements, and the views of aid recipients.  It would also provide some stability and predictability to local health care networks and allow smaller, locally-based providers to flourish and serve their clients, irrespective of the outcome of U.S. presidential elections.