Lecture on “She Decides” Fund Reveals Effectiveness of U.S. Mexico City Policy

By Rebecca Oas, Ph.D. | November 22, 2017

WASHINGTON, DC,  November 24 (C-Fam) A European fund established this year to undermine the pro-life U.S. Mexico City Policy might end up vindicating it.

Lilianne Ploumen, the Dutch parliamentarian and activist who launched the “She Decides” fund to counteract President Donald Trump’s reinstated ban on funding for international abortion groups, delivered a lecture Monday in London about the progress of her movement.

She was invited to deliver the annual Lancet Lecture at the University College, London, and was introduced by Richard Horton, editor of the UK-based medical journal The Lancet.  Horton praised Ploumen for “showing the power of politics…in the face of a truly global threat.”

Ploumen began by discussing the state of women’s rights around the world, from harassment in the workplace to economic empowerment, but at the global level, she said, “sexual and reproductive rights have always been the battleground.”

According to Ploumen’s characterization, “sexual and reproductive rights” ultimately comes down to one thing: abortion.  The Mexico City Policy, first instituted as an executive order by President Ronald Reagan in 1984, banned international organizations that promoted or provided abortions from eligibility for U.S. family planning funding. Since then, the policy has been reinstated by Republican administrations, and was recently expanded by President Trump to include more funding categories, in recognition of the fact that abortion groups have expanded their focus beyond the family planning silo.

Immediately after the policy’s reinstatement, Ploumen launched “She Decides” to directly oppose the U.S. position and ensure funding to abortion groups would not be interrupted.  “I said if the U.S. government is going to take away the 600 million dollars, we will need to find a way to find 600 million dollars somewhere else,” she told the lecture audience.

However, the policy does not reduce the $600 million in U.S. annual family planning funding, but merely restricts abortion-promoting groups from receiving it.  If “She Decides” successfully met its fundraising goal, it would not replace, but double, the amount currently funded by the U.S. Nearly a year after its launch, Ploumen said that her initiative has raised $300 million—only half of its goal for 2017—and that it will have to continue to do the same for the remaining years of the Trump administration.

A third of that total comes from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which had previously tried to maintain a neutral position on the abortion issue, but now seems to have abandoned its “no controversy” stance.

While Ploumen’s lecture and the “She Decides” website espouse broad notions of women’s empowerment, the practical purpose of the fund is much more specific: to be eligible for funding, organizations must not accept the restrictions of the Mexico City Policy and must offer contraceptives “in addition to safe abortion services.”

The specific nature of the funding requirements of “She Decides” mirrors that of the Mexico City Policy and highlights the precision with which the policy separates family planning from abortion—and the degree to which abortion proponents regard this as a threat.

Among the potential unintended consequences of the “She Decides” campaign is that it underscores the fact that just as other donors can choose to fund abortion advocacy, the U.S. can choose not to.  Similarly, it may become difficult for anti-Mexico City Policy activists to convincingly characterize it as damaging while simultaneously praising the effectiveness of the campaign created to oppose and supplant it.