Mexico City Policy: Promotion of Abortion Overseas

Administration: On late Friday afternoon, January 23, 2009, President Barack Obama signed a Memorandum overturning the Mexico City Policy (MCP), thereby restoring U.S. funding to organizations that perform and promote abortion in developing nations.

Cardinal Justin Rigali, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, responded immediately, calling the action “very disappointing.” He affirmed that “An Administration that wants to reduce abortions should not divert U.S. funds to groups that promote abortions.”

In an earlier January 16, 2009 letter, Cardinal Francis George, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, had urged then President-elect Obama to retain existing policies, including the MCP. He stated:

The Mexico City Policy, first established in 1984, has wrongly been attacked as a restriction on foreign aid for family planning. In fact, it has not reduced such aid at all, but has ensured that family planning funds are not diverted to organizations dedicated to performing and promoting abortions instead of reducing them. Once the clear line between family planning and abortion is erased, the idea of using family planning to reduce abortions becomes meaningless, and abortion tends to replace contraception as the means for reducing family size. A shift toward promoting abortion in developing nations would also increase distrust of the United States in these nations, whose values and culture often reject abortion, at a time when we need their trust and respect.

A January 30/February 1, 2009 USA Today/Gallup poll showed that the President’s action overturning the MCP was met with strong public disapproval. When asked whether they approved or disapproved “allowing funding for overseas family planning groups that provide abortions,” only 35% approved. Deirdre McQuade, spokesperson for the Bishops’ Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, noted that this finding only reinforces the point that “This is no time to divide our nation with policies that offend the pro-life values of most Americans.” 

U.S. Senate: During debate on the bill to reauthorize SCHIP (H.R. 2), Sen. Mel Martinez (R-FL), with 13 cosponsors, offered an amendment (SA 65) to restore the MCP. On January 28, 2009, the Martinez Amendment was rejected, 37-yes, 60-no (Roll Call 19).

Also, on July 9, 2009, during the Senate Appropriations Committee markup of the Fiscal Year 2010 State/Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill (S. 1434), Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), with Sens. Pat Leahy (D-VT), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Patty Murray (D-WA), and Susan Collins (R-ME), offered an amendment that would codify President Obama’s action overturning the MCP and would prevent any future president from reinstating the policy. The vote was 17-yes, 11-no, 1-present. For more detail, see discussion under appropriations bills.

U.S. House: On January 27, 2009, Reps. Chris Smith (R-NJ) introduced a bill to reinstate the MCP (H.R. 708). The measure had 85 cosponsors and was referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs. By year’s end, no further actions had occurred.

During consideration of the Omnibus Appropriations Bill, 2009 (H.R. 1105), Rep. Smith was not allowed to offer an amendment to restore the MCP.

For background information on the MCP, see:

Executive: First initiated by President Reagan in 1984, the Mexico City Policy specified that federal funds for family planning were available only to nongovernmental organizations that agreed not to perform or promote abortion as a method of family planning in other countries. On January 23, 2009, President Obama signed a Memorandum overturned the policy, thereby restoring U.S. funding to organizations that perform and promote abortion in developing nations