by Helen Alvaré
November 24, 1999
When you live in Washington, DC, it can be hard to remember that political issues which make up your daily bread and butter, aren't even on most Americans' radar screens. Such is likely the case with the "Mexico City Policy." Briefly worded as it is, however, neither this policy nor the Congressman who fought so bravely for it should be overlooked. To do so is to forgo a chance to regain some pride in government in general, and pro-life politicians in particular.
Now "brave" is a word that may seem overblown in today's political environment. After all, the prevailing view of federal politics is that of a game run by profoundly partisan and egotistical players with little else on their minds save scoring political points against the opposing party. But the politician who put his name, his reputation, and doubtless some political friendships on the line to achieve the Mexico City Policy, breaks this mold.
Chris Smith of New Jersey is doubtless known to dedicated pro-lifers as our own fearless advocate in the House of Representatives. But through his recent battles to prevent the abortion industry from exporting America's permissive abortion regime abroad, he has become well known in a more general context -- as a man who won't play politics as usual when principles are at stake. And if even the -- a paper with a strong, reflexive and uninformed editorial stance in favor of abortion -- is hinting in this direction, the word must be out.
The Mexico City Policy, first announced at a 1984 United Nations' conference in Mexico, prevented U.S. population assistance funds from flowing to foreign nongovernmental organizations that perform or promote abortion as a method of family planning. As one of his first acts in office, President Clinton rescinded this policy. Thereafter, overseas groups like the International Planned Parenthood Federation could receive U.S. funding -- and the appearance of a general blessing from the U.S. government -- while performing abortions and lobbying to overturn foreign laws protecting the unborn.
Late in 1997, at Congressman Smith's urging, the House of Representatives began making passage of the Mexico City Policy a condition for authorizing payment of arrears owed by the United States to the United Nations. Our arrears are so great, in fact, that but for payment of part of them this year, the U.S. would have lost its critical vote in the U.N. General Assembly. Last year, President Clinton vetoed the bill authorizing payment of our arrears, because the Mexico City Policy was attached.
This year, therefore, Congressman Smith was under tremendous pressure to de-link payment of back U.N. dues from abortion. The White House threatened to veto any deal involving passage of the Mexico City Policy, and to brand pro-lifers and the House leadership as dangerous to U.S. credibility abroad. Abortion advocates lobbed the most extreme insults in Smith's direction. The National Abortion Rights Action League, never sparing in its invective, cast Smith as part of a "gang," "extorting" Americans. Other pro-abortion groups variously called Smith's plan "lousy" and "cowardly." The Mexico City Policy was dubbed the "Chris Smith gag rule." Newspapers across the country editorialized against the Congressman by name.
But Smith held firm. And along with a majority of the House, won White House acceptance of the following deal: of the fiscal year 2000 population funding of 385 million dollars, 370 million is only available to groups who abide by the Mexico City Policy. As for the additional 15 million, President Clinton may choose to grant it to groups not complying with the Mexico City Policy, but if he does so, 12.5 million dollars will be diverted from the total population budget to child survival programs.
Now Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has declared herself satisfied that U.S. population programs abroad will operate satisfactorily under the Mexico City Policy. There are plenty of grantees overseas who are not get involved with abortion who will use the money for its intended purposes. So why all the vitriol? Simple. Chris Smith knows and we know, that the Mexico City Policy states loud and clear that abortion is different, abortion is stigmatized, abortion is not what the U.S. wants to stand for overseas. And the pro-abortion movement just hates this. For like their predecessors in the pro-slavery movement of the 19th century, they will not be satisfied until we are all forced to state that something wrong is a right.
Hats off to Congressman Smith.
Helen Alvare is Director of Planning and Information for the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops