by Susan E. Wills
February 2, 2001
On the 28th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, President George W. Bush took a significant first step in support of life by restoring the Mexico City Policy. This U.S. policy, in effect from 1984 until President Clinton rescinded it on January 22, 1993, was designed to stop nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) receiving U.S. funds from circumventing Congress's intent under the 1973 Helms Amendment.
Under the Helms Amendment, NGOs active in "family planning" could not use U.S. funds to perform or promote abortion as a method of family planning overseas. Some NGOs eviscerated the law through simple bookkeeping entries. For example, if the U.S. gives the hypothetical FamPlan, Inc. $5 million, FamPlan might use that money in mass sterilization programs, and then divert $5 million acquired from other sources into promoting and performing abortions. And in fact, notwithstanding the Helms Amendment, between 1973 and 1984 the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) continued its barrage against other nation's laws protecting unborn children, and even distributed abortion equipment in some countries where abortion was illegal.
At the 1984 U.N. conference on population in Mexico City, the Reagan administration announced a corrective policy: as a condition of receiving U.S. funds, NGOs involved in family planning must agree not to perform abortions or to actively promote abortion as a method of family planning in other countries.
A dangerous restriction? A monstrous imposition of right-wing ideology? You'd think so from the reaction of abortion lobbyists when President Bush restored the policy this year. "A malicious affront" to women, charged Janet Benshoof, president of the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy. Vicki Saporta, executive director of the National Abortion Federation fumed: "We know that worldwide almost 80,000 women die each year from illegal, unsafe abortion." Now President Bush has shown he's "willing to sacrifice women's health to score points with the religious right."
The comment's unfairness is exceeded only by its illogic. If an NGO can't perform or promote abortions with U.S. money in any case--under the Helms Amendment--how could the Mexico City Policy have any effect on the alleged 80,000 deaths from illegal abortion? In fact, five years after the policy first took effect, the New York Times (Feb. 27, 1989) reported that the "dramatic rise in unwanted births and unsafe abortions" predicted by opponents of the policy could not be documented!
Critics and credulous media friends of the abortion lobby prophesied darkly: "The abortion restrictions are likely to increase teen pregnancies in Europe and the spread of AIDS in Africa. The London-based [IPPF] said it may have to cancel some of its programs promoting safe sex and contraception, especially in Africa and Asia" (Williamson, Telegram & Gazette [Worcester, Mass.], Jan. 25, 2001).
The President's refusal to pay for foreign abortions responsible for more teen pregnancy? more AIDS? This is quite a stretch. Our culture admittedly does not want to hear about personal moral responsibility, but–and this is just a hunch–would not the sexual activities of the individuals involved (given a false security by Planned Parenthood's programs) be a likelier cause of teen pregnancy and AIDS?
Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ), the leader in Congress on behalf of the Mexico City Policy, is right in calling it a necessary "firewall between abortion and family planning." But he would agree it's not enough.
In our next Life Issues Forum, we'll show why foreign assistance funds should go to those groups which provide education, nutrition and primary health care for children in the developing world and not to NGOs whose goal is to prevent and these children from ever being born.
Susan E. Wills is assistant director for program development, NCCB Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities.