Expanded ‘Mexico City’ Policy Won’t Affect Amount of Funding for, or Continuation of, Global Health Programs

Patrick Goodenough | May 16, 2017 | 4:02am EDT
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Protesters demonstrate near the White House earlier this year against President Trump’s reinstatement of the Mexico City policy. (Photo: Center for Health and Gender Equity)

(CNSNews.com) – The Trump administration’s significant expansion of a Reagan-era policy that prohibits federal funding for organizations that promote or perform abortions abroad will not affect the amount of funding the U.S. provides for life-saving health programs or the continuation of those programs, administration officials said Monday.

Some of the programs, however, will be carried out by different partners if existing ones are unwilling to comply with the new regulations.

Three senior administration officials explained on background how Trump’s newly unveiled expanded version of the “Mexico City policy” will work.

The president, on his third day in office, reinstated the policy, which requires non-governmental organizations (NGOs) receiving federal funding to certify that they are not carrying out or promoting abortion – even using funds from other donors. Critics call it the “global gag rule,” contending the NGOs are being “gagged” from talking about or lobbying for abortion. At the time, he signaled that it would be expanded.

Under previous Republican administrations, the policy applied only to funds under the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) family planning program – about $600 million a year in recent years.

Under the newly expanded plan approved by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, however, it will cover all foreign health assistance that is appropriated to the State Department, USAID and the Defense Department, amounting to around $8.8 billion, the officials said Monday.

The lion’s share of those funds, around $6 billion, are for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

The new policy, named “Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance,” has some exclusions: It applies to funding for NGOs, not to foreign governments or international organizations; it does not apply to humanitarian assistance, including refugee assistance and disaster relief.

Also not covered under the new policy are referrals for abortion in cases of “rape, incest, or endangerment of the life of the woman,” one of the official said.

What is being targeted is the promotion of abortion “as a method of family planning,” which the official explained would include abortion counseling, referrals, lobbying and public information campaigns.

 “This is implementing what the president has made very clear, that no U.S. taxpayer money should be used to support foreign organizations to perform or actively promote abortion as a method of family planning in other nations,” the official said.

The U.S. is the world’s biggest donor country for global health programs.

 ‘Abortion is not health care’

 Critics of the Mexico City policy – such as the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), which said in January it would lose $100 million because of its reinstatement – argue that it leads to more unintended pregnancies and “unsafe abortions.”

Reacting to Monday’s announcement, Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE) president Serra Sippel said the policy’s expansion will also block “women’s access to skilled birth attendants” and contraception, and will derail “efforts to prevent HIV infections among newborns.”

“Trump’s expanded global gag rule is not rooted in facts, but rather crass politics and an isolationist obsession with appeasing evangelicals,” she said.

Other critics have raised alarms that the expanded policy will now impact everything from HIV/AIDS work to prevention of childhood diseases.

“President Trump’s actions have already had a chilling effect on international humanitarian efforts, preventing cooperation on a wide range of life-saving work to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, Zika and other preventable diseases,” stated Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who has introduced legislation aimed at permanently repealing the policy.

But one of the briefing officials said the expanded policy will affect neither the amount of funding provided by the U.S. each year for foreign health programs, nor the continuation of the programs themselves.

“It’s important to note that we’re not talking about decreasing any of the programmatic funding to any of these elements,” the official said, but added that there may be “a different provider” in some instances.

“The commitment is to providing consistent and quality services as all of our programs are committed to, whether it’s malaria, tuberculosis, or HIV/AIDS programs.”

Another of the administration officials said it would be up to the partner NGOs to decide whether they want to continue taking U.S. funding and complying with the requirement – or not.

“It’s up to the recipients to decide whether or not they would – are willing to sign the clauses and implement these clauses,” the official said.

If a partner NGO decides against doing so, then “for that particular program, we would look for other partners to continue the services or continue the programs that we’re implementing.”

Praise for the newly expanded policy came from Susan B. Anthony List, a pro-life organization, whose president Marjorie Dannenfelser called the move “one of the reasons pro-life voters worked to elect Donald Trump to the White House.”

Dannenfelser noted that the policy “does not cut a single penny from U.S. aid, rather it simply ensures our hard-earned tax dollars are used by other health care entities that act consistently to save lives, rather than promoting and performing abortion.”

“Abortion is not health care,” she added.

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