‘Mexico City’ Policy Affecting International Clinics, Hurting HIV/AIDS Prevention Efforts, Report Says
The so-called "Mexico City" policy, which prevents federal funding from going to foreign family planning groups that provide any abortion-related services, has forced the closure of some clinics in developing countries and has hurt HIV/AIDS prevention efforts, according to a report released on Wednesday by Population Action International, Planned Parenthood Federation of America and IPAS, with assistance from EngenderHealth and Pathfinder International, Reuters reports. The report, titled "Access Denied: U.S. Restrictions on International Family Planning," surveyed clinics in Ethiopia, Kenya, Romania and Zambia. "Health services have been scaled back and closings of reproductive health clinics have left some communities with no health care provider," the groups said in a statement. In addition, many men and women do not have access to contraceptives that can help prevent unwanted pregnancies and HIV infection because of clinic closures, according to the report (Fox, Reuters, 9/23). The Mexico City policy -- which was originally implemented by President Reagan at a population conference in Mexico City in 1984, removed by President Clinton and reinstated by President Bush on the first day of his presidency -- bars U.S. money from international groups that support abortion, even with their own money, through direct services, counseling or lobbying activities. Bush last month issued an executive order that prevents the State Department from giving family planning grants to international groups that provide abortion-related counseling, effectively extending the Mexico City policy, which previously applied only to USAID. However, the new order exempts agencies in Africa and the Caribbean that would benefit from Bush's five-year, $15 billion global AIDS initiative (Kaiser Daily Reproductive Health Report, 9/2).
The Mexico City policy, which is referred to as the global gag rule by opponents, is "taking a toll on the lives and health of women, children and families around the world," the report says. Five clinics operated by nongovernmental organizations in Kenya have had to close because they violated the policy and were denied funding by USAID, according to the report. "The NGOs have also had to cut their staffing by as much as 30%, reduce services in remaining clinics and raise fees in order to remain viable," the report says. The report also notes that the Lesotho Planned Parenthood Association, which received from USAID 426,000 condoms between 1998 and 2000, no longer receives the contraceptives from USAID because the organization refuses to agree to the policy. In Romania, women may be more likely to undergo abortions because the rule prevents more women from receiving information on contraceptives, the report says.
PPFA President Gloria Feldt said, "This is the real face of Bush's compassionate conservatism -- a war on the world's most vulnerable women and children, who bear the brunt of Bush's obsession with appeasing his domestic political base" (Reuters, 9/23). PAI President Amy Coen said, "The policy shows no respect for scientific evidence and proven public health practices and no compassion for the millions of women around the world engaged in a daily struggle for existence" (PAI release, 9/24). Supporters of the rule say that taxpayers should not have to fund abortions overseas, whereas opponents of the rule say that abortion is legal in the United States and elsewhere and that counseling including information on abortion is part of a comprehensive message women need to protect their health, according to Reuters (Reuters, 9/23).