Abortion Groups Can Circumvent Mexico City Policy

The “Mexico City” policy-a Reagan directive revived by President Bush to keep foreign aid out of the hands of abortion providers and promoters-has developed such enormous loopholes it is now practically meaningless, say congressional pro-lifers.

Last October, ten conservative congressmen, including Reps. Chris Smith (R.-N.J.) and Roscoe Bartlett (R.-Md.), decried the ineffectual policy. The congressmen signed a letter to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) citing a grant of $65 million to a program run by the Population Council, the group that holds the patent on the abortion drug RU-486.

A spokesman for USAID-the government’s main foreign aid arm-agreed that abortion groups, while following the strict letter of the Mexico City rule, can continue to collect government money without substantially changing their activities.

The Mexico City policy forbids U.S. foreign aid designated for “family planning” from going to groups that provide or promote abortions. However, the policy does not prevent abortion groups from collecting other kinds of federal grants.

Population Action International (PAI) has published a 16-page booklet instructing groups on how to circumvent the Mexico City policy (it is available on that PAI’s website). PAI, which says it does not receive government funding, seeks to promote international family-planning NGOs-helping them to help themselves to federal money.

Their booklet, “What You Need to Know about the Global Gag Rule Restrictions: the Unofficial Guide,” explains that simply by altering its stated mission from “family planning” to other terms that cover the same activities a group can get U.S. tax dollars. For example, if a group says it does “birth spacing” instead of “family planning,” or if it refers to condom distribution as “HIV prevention,” it ceases to be a “family planning” operation and falls outside the Mexico City policy.

Reagan’s Original Intent

The booklet also notes that while groups that receive family planning funds cannot lobby foreign governments for certain abortion laws, “eligibility for USAID support is not jeopardized merely by participating in research that others may use in advancing abortion law reform.”

Thus abortion groups can continue to receive federal funds while advocating, referring and performing abortions overseas.

“I think that you’re saying is very true. It’s all about how you package it,” PAI spokeswoman Kimberly Cline told HUMAN EVENTS when asked about her group’s booklet.

USAID spokesman Alfonso Aguilar agreed with PAI’s analysis, telling HUMAN EVENTS that these groups can continue to collect tax dollars by repackaging their family planning activities as “AIDS prevention” or “child health” activities.

“Yes, I would say that’s right,” he said. “The Mexico City policy applies only to family planning funding.”

Last week, conservatives called on the Bush administration to correct the situation by strengthening the Mexico City rules. They are especially worried that funds from the President’s planned $15 billion program to alleviate AIDS in Africa might go to abortion groups. “If they want to effectively implement the aid needed in Africa, then they’re going to have to close the gap on the Mexico City language and extend it to include all humanitarian aid,” said Connie Mackey of the Family Research Council.

President Reagan first implemented the Mexico City policy in a 1984. President Clinton cancelled it. President Bush reinstated it in 2001.

Meanwhile, social conservatives in the Senate scored a major victory when legislation to fund the new Africa AIDS/HIV program-sponsored by Senators Joseph Biden (D.-Del.) and Dick Lugar (R.-Ind.)-was sent back to the drawing board, instead winning a committee vote. As proposed, it would have overridden not only the Mexico City policy, but also a law authored by Sen. Jesse Helms (R.-N.C.) that forbids the use of tax dollars to directly fund abortions abroad.