The Mexico City Policy


Background: First announced by the Reagan Administration at a population conference in Mexico City in 1984, the Mexico City Policy (MCP) provides that no U.S. population assistance funds can be given to a foreign nongovernmental organization unless it certifies that it will not perform or promote abortion as a method of family planning. The policy was overturned by President Clinton on January 22, 1993 and restored by President Bush on January 22, 2001.

Abortion advocates in Congress have been seeking ways to negate President Bush’s reinstatement of the policy.

In the October 13, 2007 issue of The Lancet, researchers from the Guttmacher Institute and the World Health Organization published a study calling for the global legalization and promotion of abortion (“Induced Abortion: Estimated Rates and Trends Worldwide”). In the same issue, an editorial said that the Mexico City Policy only made the worldwide abortion situation worse (“Eliminating Unsafe Abortion Worldwide”). In a response criticizing the study, USCCB spokesperson Deirdre McQuade noted that, according to the study itself, “total worldwide abortions substantially decreased from 1995 (when the [Mexico City] policy was not in effect) to 2003 (after it was reinstated).”

House: The Fiscal Year 2008 State Department/Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill (H.R. 2764) became the vehicle to attempt to negate the MCP.

Committee: On June 5, 2007, the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), approved H.R. 2764. Contrary to early reports, the Lowey bill contained language in section 622 that would negate the MCP in specific circumstances. The Lowey bill designated $441 million for international family planning and stipulated that federal funding for contraceptives in foreign countries shall not be denied “to any nongovernmental organization solely on the basis of the policy contained in the President’s March 28, 2001, Memorandum” to the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International

Development (USAID). (The President had restored the MCP on January 22, 2001, then implemented his policy decision through this March 28 memorandum.) According to the Lowey bill, nongovernmental organizations that perform or promote abortion as a method of family planning could not be denied funding to provide contraceptives in developing countries.

On June 12, 2007, the full Appropriations Committee marked up the Fiscal Year 2008 State/Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill; the language negating the MCP was not changed.

Floor: On June 21, 2007, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to negate the MCP, approving an amendment by Rep. Lowey and rejecting another by Reps. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Bart Stupak (D-MI).

The day before the floor debate, Rep. Lowey announced that she would offer an amendment to modify the wording in Section 622. The text of the amendment was not made available until the day of the debate. Its purpose remained the negation of the MCP applied to specific circumstances. Nongovernmental organizations that perform or promotes abortion as a method of family planning could not be denied funding for providing donated contraceptives in developing countries.

On June 21, 2007, during floor debate on H.R. 2764, the House approved the Lowey Amendment, 223-yes, 201-no, 14-not voting (Roll Call 533).

The Smith/Stupak Amendment would have upheld the MCP by striking the pertinent language in Section 622, as modified by the Lowey Amendment. On June 21, 2007, the House rejected the Smith/Stupak Amendment, 205-yes, 218-no, 14-not voting (Roll Call 534).

Two days before these votes, a Statement of Administration Policy reaffirmed the President’s intent to uphold current policies and laws on abortion. “Consistent with the President’s letter of May 3, 2007, if the President were presented a bill, such as H.R. 2764, that weakens current Federal policies and laws on abortion, he would veto the bill.”

Cardinal Justin Rigali, Chairman of the Bishops’ Committee for Pro-Life Activities, had sent a letter to House Members, urging support of the Smith/Stupak Amendment. The Cardinal highlighted the origins and purpose of the MCP and, responding to those opposing the MCP and claiming to want to reduce abortion, made four observations: first, abortion does not plan a family but kills a member of the family; second, studies show that promoting contraceptives does not necessarily reduce abortions; third, when made available alongside preventive methods, abortion replaces prevention; and fourth, it is contrary to logic and common sense to say that abortions can be reduced by supporting groups dedicated to promoting abortion.

Responding to the House votes, Deirdre A. McQuade, Director of Planning and Information for the Bishops’ Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, affirmed that “Exporting abortion overseas will not lower abortion rates, is resented by developing countries, and is not supported by the American people.” She expressed gratitude to President Bush for his pledge to exercise his veto power to uphold the MCP.

An analysis of the vote on the Smith/Stupak Amendment reveals that by-and-large pro- life advocates in the House stood firm in their support of the MCP and were not swayed or confused by Rep. Lowey’s maneuvers.

In another matter of concern in H.R. 2764, Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-PA) offered an amendment to strike from H.R. 2764 language that would eliminate current policy whereby in the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) one-third of HIV and AIDS prevention funds are allocated to abstinence-before-marriage programs. Bishop Thomas Wenski, Chairman of the Bishops’ Committee on International Policy, and Ken Hackett, President of Catholic Relief Services, had sent a letter to the House urging retention of the current policy.

Unfortunately, the House rejected the Pitts Amendment, 200-yes, 226-no, 12-not voting (Roll Call 532). 

Senate: During consideration of H.R. 2764, the Senate agreed to vote on three amendments, two by Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS), one upholding the Kemp-Kasten Amendment and the other supporting the Mexico City Policy (to strike the House-passed Lowey Amendment), and one by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) to prohibit the application of the MCP funding eligibility requirements, overturning the MCP completely. Each of the three amendments would be voted on in turn; no second degree amendments would be allowed.

On September 6, 2007, the Senate voted 53-yes, 41-no, 6-not voting (Roll Call 319) to approve the Boxer Amendment (Amendment No. 2719). In 2003 and 2005, the Senate had previously approved the language of this amendment by similar margins. The Boxer Amendment is part of a campaign by abortion advocates to overturn the MCP after it was reinstated by President George W. Bush in 2001.

After approving the Boxer Amendment, the Senate voted 40-yes, 54-no, 6-not voting (Roll Call 320) to reject an amendment by Sen. Brownback (Amendment No. 2708) to strike from the bill House-passed language that negated the MCP.

Note: Originally, Sen. Robert Casey, Jr. (D-PA) had voted for the Brownback Amendment. However, a few days later, the Senator stated that his “yes” vote on the Brownback Amendment was a mistake and received approval by the Senate to change his vote to “no” (Congressional Record, 9/10/07, S11289). The vote numbers above reflect this change.

In a September 6 statement on H.R. 2764, the White House reiterated the President’s intent to veto. Consistent with the President’s letter of May 3, 2007, if the President were presented a bill such as H.R. 2764 that weakens current Federal policies and laws on abortion, he would veto the bill” (underline in original).

On September 6, 2007, Cardinal Justin Rigali, Chairman of the Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, sent a letter to the U.S. Senate urging support for the Kemp-Kasten Amendment and the Mexico City Policy.

Conference: In the normal course of events, H.R. 2764 would now go to a House-Senate conference committee to resolve differences in the House and Senate versions of the bill. On September 6, 2007, the Senate appointed its conferees; the House never did so.

House Hearing: On October 31, 2007, the House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing on the Mexico City Policy (“The Mexico City Policy/Global Gag Rule: Its Impact on Family Planning and Reproductive Health”). Intended as a forum for the pro-abortion advocates to promote their position, it turned into an occasion for pro-life to press its case. Many pro-life Members on the Committee attended the full hearing and were well prepared to challenge the witnesses. An ad urging “Support the Mexico City Policy” was placed in Washington, DC publications at the time of hearing. See:

Law: H.R. 2764 became the vehicle for passage of eleven of the fiscal year 2008 appropriations bills. Retitled the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2008, the measure was cleared for the White House on December 19, 2007 and signed into law December 26, 2007 (P.L. 110-161). Because of President Bush’s pledge to veto any bill that contained language overturning pro-life policies, Democratic leaders pulled from the omnibus bill any of the House or Senate language that would negate the Mexico City Policy. The Administration’s Mexico City Policy remained intact.