Pompeo Faces Grilling on Changes to Reagan-Era ‘Mexico City' Abortion Policy

By Patrick Goodenough | March 27, 2019 | 4:50am EDT
Demonstrators march to the White House in March 2017 to protest the Mexico City Policy, which critics call the global gag rule. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

(Update: Rep. Lowey opened Wednesday’s hearing by telling Secretary Pompeo: “International NGOs should not be forced to choose between accepting life-saving assistance from the United States or providing legal, comprehensive care with their own funds.” More here.)

(CNSNews.com) – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo could face a grilling as early as Wednesday morning over the administration’s stricter enforcement of the Mexico City Policy, when he appears before a House Appropriions subcommittee to discuss the administration’s FY 2020 State and foreign operations budget request.

The hearing will be chaired by committee chairwoman Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), who last month joined Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) in introducing a bicameral resolution to repeal the Reagan-era policy permanently.

Now the policy they are targeting – with supporters including all six announced 2020 presidential candidates in the Senate – is being strengthened considerably.

In its original form, it withheld federal funding from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that promote or perform abortions abroad.

A political football that has bounced through cycles of suspension and reinstatement through the last five Republican and Democratic administrations, the policy had been strengthened by the Trump administration even before Pompeo’s announcement on Tuesday.

In 2017, Pompeo’s predecessor, Rex Tillerson, strengthened the policy, making it applicable to all U.S. foreign health assistance, not just funding for family planning programs as had previously been the case.

The “refinements” announced by Pompeo go further, withholding funding not just from foreign NGOs that promote or perform abortions, but also from NGOs that give money to other NGOs that promote or perform abortions.

“We will enforce a strict prohibition on back-door funding schemes and end-runs around our policy,” he told reporters at the State Department.

Also, Pompeo said the State Department will fully enforce a 1981 legislative amendment that prohibits the use of U.S. funds “to lobby for or against abortion.”

As a result, it was reducing funding to the Organization of American States because of “abortion-related advocacy” carried out by one of its organs, he said.

Department deputy spokesman Robert Palladino later confirmed that the organ concerned was the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), and said the U.S. was withholding $210,000 from the FY 2019 assessed contribution to the OAS.

In 2017 the IACHR advocated against laws criminalizing abortion in OAS member-states.

Asked whether other multilateral institutions were being warned, Palladino said “I think Secretary Pompeo made pretty clear this morning that this administration is a pro-life administration and that we’re going to continue to seek to advocate our values strongly and globally.”

‘Relentlessly pursuing taxpayer dollars’

March for Life president Jeanne Mancini welcomed the move.

“Taxpayer dollars should not fund abortion here or abroad, and respecting the inherent dignity of the unborn person goes hand in glove with our country’s foreign assistance and humanitarian work,” she said.

“The abortion industry is well known for relentlessly pursuing taxpayer dollars – and will exploit any opportunity to grab U.S. taxpayer funds,” commented Family Research Council president Tony Perkins. “Thankfully, President Trump and Secretary Pompeo are just as relentless in working to ensure taxpayers aren’t forced into a partnership with the abortion industry overseas.”

Planned Parenthood Federation of America president Leana Wen said the tightening of what opponents call the “global gag rule” was “unethical, dangerous, and unacceptable.”

“Further expansion of the global gag rule will harm millions of people around the world and have consequences for generations to come,” she said.

“Over the past two years, we have seen Trump’s global gag rule directly harm vulnerable women and girls around the world by threatening their access to contraception and other vital healthcare,” said Marjorie Newman-Williams, president of Marie Stopes International (MSI) in the U.S.

There was, however, “a silver lining,” she added.

“The Trump administration’s attacks on reproductive choice have sparked a powerful movement around the world to support women's choice and rights. Now, we’re mobilizing these advocates to fight for change.”

MSI is one of the world’s largest abortion providers. It said last year that Trump’s reinstitution of the Mexico City Policy had cost the organization $80 million.

Pompeo on Tuesday pushed back on claims that the policy was hurting women by depriving NGOs providing healthcare, leading to more pregnancies and more abortions.

“We’re working alongside those NGOs that do some phenomenal work, and the theory that somehow not protecting every human life is destroying human life is perverse on its face,” he said.

Pompeo said the total in dollars allocated for women’s and global health under the Trump administration remains unchanged. “We’re just ensuring that those dollars aren’t used to underwrite abortion.”

He also rejected arguments about NGOs having to make a choice between receiving U.S. funding or responding to HIV/Aids.

“America is the most generous nation in the history of the world with respect to the particular instance you cite,” he said. “These two don’t run at cross purposes.”

“One need not perform abortions in order to protect people from HIV,” Pompeo added. “They’re fundamentally disconnected …”

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