What is the Mexico City Policy?

A note about this series: Global Press Journal reporters around the world examined their communities’ approaches to reproductive health, including values and priorities and how international policies impact them. Read the other stories in this month-long series here.

In 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order to reinstate the Mexico City Policy – a move that reversed eight years of U.S.-funded efforts across the world to provide some forms of family planning services.

The policy, which Trump formally christened as Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance, prohibits the use of U.S. dollars by organizations that provide abortions, offer educational materials about abortions, advocate for the liberalization of abortion laws or refer people to organizations that provide abortions.

Those who oppose abortion, including the Trump administration and the Republican political party he leads, celebrate the policy as an indication that U.S. tax dollars won’t be used to perform or encourage those procedures. They say the policy protects the unborn while still providing an array of other reproductive health services. For them, the policy aligns with the socially conservative belief that human life begins before birth.

But organizations that provide family planning services condemn the policy, which is also widely known as the Global Gag Rule. They say that cutting off U.S. aid money to clinics that reference abortion as a family planning option – even if they mostly focus on providing birth control or other services related to women’s health or HIV treatment – will leave more women without key healthcare.

The policy is instated and rescinded like clockwork by U.S. presidents, based on their political party. President Ronald Reagan, a Republican, first signed the policy in 1984. In following years, presidents from the Democratic Party have repeatedly nullified it.

The policy does not prohibit U.S. funds from being used for abortions; that was banned by the Helms Amendment passed in 1973. Instead, it prevents health organizations from even mentioning abortion as a family planning option, whether it is legal in a country or not. If an organization provides information on abortion, or actual abortions anywhere in the world, it can’t take U.S. funding under the rule – even if it doesn’t mention abortion in countries where that procedure is largely illegal. And instead of cutting funding entirely, the policy reallocates money from organizations that won’t sign on to those that will.

When he signed the policy in 2017, Trump significantly expanded its scope. In the past, the rule only applied to funding earmarked for family planning. The Trump administration applied it to the entire U.S. global health budget of $8.8 billion. In March, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced a further expansion of the policy, extending it to any organization that directly works with others that refer to or advocate for abortion.

Special Report: Reproductive Health Around the World