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The Mexico City Policy: Protecting the Most Fundamental Right


by Ryan J. Dwyer

November 16, 2007

"Around the globe, millions of women are fighting for...the right to obtain a safe and legal abortion," proclaimed Congressman Tom Lantos (D-CA) at a recent Congressional hearing. He blamed "the mindless Global Gag Rule" for standing in their way.

Rep. Lantos was referring to the Mexico City Policy (MCP), an executive order that withholds United States funds from any foreign non-governmental organization (NGO) which performs or promotes abortion as a method of family planning (the policy does not cover abortions in cases of rape, incest or life endangerment). Opponents derisively label the MCP the "Global Gag Rule," claiming it "gags" NGOs that want to offer women the option of abortion.

The U.S. first announced this policy at the 1984 United Nations Conference on Population in Mexico City, where member nations (including the vast majority of developing nations) passed a resolution opposing abortion as birth control. The policy continued through President Reagan's terms, was rescinded by President Clinton, but was restored under both Bush presidencies.

The MCP is necessary because groups such as the International Planned Parenthood Foundation (IPPF) see abortion as an indispensable tool of population control, ostensibly to reduce poverty. IPPF lobbies aggressively for worldwide legalization of abortion on demand, and has even performed illegal abortions overseas. Under the guise of "menstrual regulation," IPPF-funded doctors have performed early abortions on women without their knowledge or consent. Thanks to the MCP, IPPF no longer receives $17 million of annual U.S. aid.

Nevertheless, many Congressional Democrats now want President Bush to approve a bill that would reverse the MCP. At the Lantos hearing, doctors from Nigeria and Ghana claimed that the MCP muzzles NGOs who want to direct women to "safe" abortion clinics and that tens of thousands of African women die annually from "unsafe abortion." But in fact, the policy forbids active promotion of abortion, not passive referrals in response to questions.

Kenyan gynecologist Jean Kagia unmasked the falsity of these maternal death claims. She testified that in Kenya, where abortion is prohibited, less than 1% of maternal deaths are due to abortion. She added that the leading causes of death, such as malaria, are treatable. Dr. Kagia also disputed the assumption that the typical African woman wants abortion, stating that "Abortion would make her go against her faith and conscience," and citing polls showing that 85% of Kenyan women are opposed to abortion. Dr. Kagia stated, "African women love babies. I wish we'd just take some time to think of how we can help this African woman [have her] baby in a safe way."

Far from being "mindless," the MCP guards against the faulty logic that promoting abortion on demand will decrease maternal death. This reasoning presents a false choice, pitting the life of the child against the life of the mother -- and concluding that the unborn are expendable to advance their mothers' "rights."

We must recognize that U.S. foreign aid will only succeed if it affirms the most fundamental human right: the right to life. As Pope Benedict has said, speaking of Western aid that does not reflect the natural hierarchy of rights: "When this ordering of goods is no longer respected, but turned on its head, the result is not justice or concern for human suffering. The result is rather ruin and destruction."

Ryan Dwyer is a Federal Policy Analyst for the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. 

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