This article was originally published on Advocates for Truth under the title “Mexico City Policy“.
As a part of a series of executive orders, President Biden has reversed the Mexico City Policy. The Mexico City Policy is named after the location of the United Nations Conference on Population and Development in 1984, where the Reagan administration announced the new policy. It prevents non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from using tax dollars overseas as a way to perform or support abortion. It has subsequently been reversed by every Democratic presidential administration and reinstated by every Republican administration. Is this something Christians should care about? What impact could the reinstatement of this policy potentially have?
How Does It Work?
Prior to the Mexico City Policy, there were already several restrictions on trying to prevent taxpayer dollars from being used for abortion overseas. After the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, the Helms Amendment was passed which prevented U.S. tax dollars from directly being used to fund abortions abroad. It is similar to the Hyde Amendment, which prevents federal taxpayer dollars from directly being used to fund abortion domestically. In 1981, then-Senator Joe Biden also sponsored an amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act to prevent U.S. foreign assistance from being used for biomedical research related to abortion or forced sterilization. Nevertheless, even with these protections, NGOs could keep segregated accounts where they used U.S. funds for other purposes but used their own budget to support or provide abortion.
With the introduction of the Mexico City Policy, U.S. foreign aid to these organizations (and those sub-organizations which they support) became contingent upon not using their own funds to provide or promote abortion. NGOs are given the option to comply with the policy or forfeit the financial aid from the government. The Mexico City Policy saw its greatest expansion in the Trump administration, who made it applicable to U.S. global health aid administered by all federal departments (roughly $8.8 billion) rather than only aid going to USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development).
What is its Impact?
In 2019, The Lancet (a well-respected medical journal in England) published a study that examined the effect of the Mexico City Policy on sub-Saharan African countries during the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations from the years 1995-2014. It sought to compare the effect of abortion rates and contraceptive use for “high exposure” countries with “low exposure” countries, meaning those countries that received a substantial amount of funding from the U.S. versus those that don’t. It found that abortions rose by 40% during the Bush administration (when the Mexico City policy was in place) among countries with a “high exposure” to the Mexico City Policy compared to those with a “low exposure.” In other words, when these funding sources were removed, it seemed to correlate to an increase in abortion rates when comparing countries that were more dependent on funding versus those that were less dependent. Their data shows that the rise in abortion rates was correlated to a decrease in contraception use during this same time period. Although the Mexico City Policy does not specifically limit contraceptives, the authors of this study suspect that the two issues are related.
With the expansion of the Mexico City Policy, the Trump administration also undertook a study to determine the impact of the expansion. It found that of the 1340 “prime-awardees” (those who receive money directly from a U.S. aid program), only 8 declined to follow the new policy; in addition, 47 “sub-awardees” (those organizations supported by the “prime-awardees”) also declined to follow the new policy, resulting in about $150 million in declined funding. Most of this declined funding had been going to two organizations – International Planned Parenthood Federation and Marie Stopes International. The majority of the declined funding was going to sub-Saharan Africa. The study also found that for most other declined financial awards, suitable alternative recipients were able to be found, such that little disruption was felt to the actual distribution of healthcare.
Evaluating the Evidence
The Lancet journal article would seem to provide evidence that a well-intended policy might actually have the opposite effect than intended. This is something that Christians should take seriously. If the policy is actually having an effect opposite of what was intended (decreasing abortions), then it should be reevaluated or reworked to try and mitigate these effects.
However, as the study acknowledges, there could be factors beyond the Mexico City Policy that led to these results.
- Correlation doesn’t always equal causation. Just because two things appear to correspond over time, that doesn’t mean they are directly related to one another.
- The study also admits that there are major gaps in the data, as reporting of the number of abortions can be underestimated. Many of these countries don’t track this kind of data very thoroughly, so the authors had to make many assumptions and estimations to provide meaningful results.
- Additionally, as the study done by the Trump administration shows, relatively few organizations actually refuse to abide by the Mexico City Policy, even with expanded restrictions. It is uncertain the degree to which those few organizations could have an impact on an entire country’s abortion rate or contraceptive use.
What Does the Bible Say?
The Bible provides substantial reasons for adopting a pro-life position. Several passages of Scripture (see “Key Scriptures” in the original article) indicate that God regards the fetus as a human being created in his image. Christians should continue to advocate for the life of unborn people and for policies which help protect their lives.
While something as complicated as foreign health aid can be debated and the effects evaluated, our goal must be to protect human life. To this end, we should be open to modifying the Mexico City policy if it actually results in more abortions rather than fewer. In order to love others and the unborn well, we need to seek the truth of a situation, not hold rigidly to a man-made policy (1 Thessalonians 5:21, Ephesians 5:9-10).
Ever since it was implemented back in 1984, pro-life Christians have supported the Mexico City Policy. Its repeal is an outworking of the Biden Administration’s pro-choice worldview. While the effects of the Mexico City Policy are debated, Christians should be united in their protection of the unborn and not using taxpayer dollars to fund abortion.