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Debate: Mexico City Policy and US funding for UNFPA

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Should the USA restore funding to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA)?

Background and context

The continuing controversy within the United States about abortion also has an impact on foreign policy, and particularly the USA's attitude to and funding of family planning and reproductive health programmes in the developing world. Since the Helms Amendment of 1973 it has been illegal to give US government funding to organisations which would use it to provide or advocate abortions in other countries. This, however, still allowed non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working in the developing world to seek and use American funding for other family planning services (e.g. provision of contraceptives, health checks), while providing abortion services or advocacy from their non-US funds. In 1984 President Reagan announced his Mexico City Policy (named after the city in which he made his speech), which went further than existing legislation by making NGOs' receipt of US government money conditional upon their agreement

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Argument #1

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Yes

The impact of United States policy on family planning work in the developing world is both serious and damaging. By refusing to fund the UNFPA for the past four years, this body has been denied sufficient funding to support its valuable work. 2005's $34 million of withheld US funding could prevent up to 2 million unwanted pregnancies and up to 5000 maternal deaths, as well as helping to fight HIV/AIDS more effectively. The Mexico City Policy also has a damaging impact on family planning work. Organisations who refuse to sign up to its restrictions, such as Marie Stopes International (MSI) and International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), are denied US funding for their work, losing over 25% of their pre-2001 budgets. These are the largest organisations in this field, working in over 180 countries between them, and loss of US funding has led to the closure of clinics in countries such as Kenya, Zambia, Ghana and Ethiopia. This results in not just family planning services, but also cervical screening and childhood immunisation programmes being lost to millions of poor people. NGOs have also lost access to USAID technical assistance and US-donated contraceptives are no longer supplied to 32 developing countries.

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No

The USA remains the leading donor of funding for family planning and reproductive health programmes, spending over $440 million in 2004-05, far more than any other country. Nor is it reducing its giving when it withholds its UNFPA funding - this money is redirected towards providing additional resources for USAID programmes. Denying UNFPA funding demonstrates US concerns about the UN agency, which says it is against abortion as a means of family planning but all too often promotes an anti-life agenda under the banner of so-called

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Argument #2

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Yes

The Mexico City Policy is not necessary to prevent US money being spent on abortions in the developing world. Such spending on providing or advocating abortions is already prohibited under federal law (1973 Helms amendment) - US money is not given to NGOs for this purpose. But the Mexico City Policy goes further and hits organisations who wish to provide a broad range of reproductive and sexual health advice, which might sometimes include information about abortion in countries where it is legal. The principle of informed consent demands that health-care providers tell women of all the legal and available options, yet even if this part of NGOs' activities is entirely funded from other sources, they are still denied all access to US funding.

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No

It is misleading to argue that simply insisting that US funding is not used to provide or promote abortions is enough to promote a pro-life agenda. The Mexico City Policy is crucial to ensure that NGOs cannot simply switch funding around internally, so that US funding for, e.g. condoms, allows money from European donors to be directed to abortion services and advocacy.

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Argument #3

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Yes

US policy undermines sovereign governments abroad. In many developing countries abortion is legal in at least some circumstances and their governments wish to make counselling and post-abortion care part of the wider mix of reproductive rights services available to their populations. By denying funding to NGOs which work within this legal framework, and which are often the only source of local health care, the USA is attempting to dictate policy to poor countries and undermine the legitimate, often democratic decisions of their own governments. And this is in spite of the fact that a woman's right to choose is constitutionally protected within the USA.

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No

The USA should not provide funding to developing countries in the form of a blank cheque. If we believe that abortion is a terrible evil, and wish to uphold the rights of the unborn child, then those values are universal and should not be compromised by other policy objectives. We do not force other countries (or the UNFPA or NGOs) to do anything, or to take our money against their will. We simply refuse to implicate ourselves in the murder of millions of babies by providing American taxpayers' money to make it possible.

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Argument #4

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Yes

The Mexico City Policy would be unconstitutional if it was applied in the USA as it enforces an advocacy ban which clearly runs against First Amendment rights - this is why the policy is often known as the

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No

There is a big difference between banning free speech and providing funding for views with which we profoundly disagree. Many of the NGOs who have refused to take US money because of the Mexico City Policy are highly ideological, more interested in abortion than in proper family planning. Some, like MSI and IPPF spend large sums campaigning for anti-life legislation in the many developing countries where abortion is rightly illegal or greatly restricted. We do not want any of our money to support the activities of organisations with such an agenda.

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Argument #5

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Yes

The Mexico City Policy is actually counter-productive, making it more likely that the number of abortions performed in developing countries will rise. Denying funding to a large number of family planning programmes, and stopping donations in kind of condoms and other contraceptives inevitably means that the number of unwanted pregnancies will rise. Regardless of the law, desperate women will then seek abortions, perhaps in dangerous back-street circumstances. In some African countries, up to half of maternal deaths are the result of unsafe abortions. Neither the rights of the unborn child, nor the health of mothers are safeguarded by this gesture to the religious right.

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No

Abortion is not widely available in the developing world and we do not want it to become so. Most people in developing countries share our strong religious and ethical objections to abortion, and the Mexico City Policy means that our tax dollars cannot be used to launch an attack on their values. Nor do we agree that full family planning services cannot be provided without including advocacy of abortion, or that reduced services automatically lead to more unwanted pregnancies rather than greater levels of abstinence. Research has shown that the Mexico City Policy did not lead to an increase in illegal abortions when it was in force in the 1980s. Finally, it has been established that the Policy does not prevent funding for post-abortion care when women have become victims of this dangerous procedure, so the policy is not against the health of women.

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Argument #6

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Yes

The Mexico City Policy risks greatly damaging the global fight against HIV/AIDS. Local family-planning services are in the front line of detecting and treating the disease, and are the key providers of a safe-sex message and other prevention measures. In theory the Bush Administration has agreed that HIV/AIDS funding will not be hostage to the Mexico City Policy. In practice their demand that US funding be kept separate and not used for any activity related to abortion (e.g. counselling, educating women about their rights, participating in national debate on these issues) will

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No

The Bush administration has made a major concession in its Mexico City Policy for HIV/AIDS work - one which is deeply unpopular among the pro-life community. The compromise will not prevent anti-AIDS programmes being delivered - the administration has simply said that US funding for NGOs involved in such work must not be used for their other abortion-related activities, so the scary scenarios of the Proposition are unfounded. However, if the AIDS programme becomes a covert way of funding

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Argument #7

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Yes

For the past four years the Bush administration has refused to fund the UNFPA with the money ($34 million) set aside for that purpose by Congress. It states that it objects to the UNFPA's work in China, but cannot point to evidence which would support its claims that the agency is implicated in forced abortion and sterilisation programmes. Instead, European Union investigators have found no such link and there is evidence that the number of abortions in Chinese counties in which the UNFPA is active has fallen significantly. Indeed, UNFPA will only work in counties where the leadership sign written agreements to abandon rigid birth targets.

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No

It is right that the US administration does not fund UNFPA activities until they are sure that the agency is not involved in population control initiatives including abortions and forced sterilisations. The UNFPA's involvement in Chinese government programmes acts as a seal of approval on that brutal regime's population control policies. The Karsten-Kemp provision bans the US government from funding

See also

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