What You Need To Know About the Global Gag Rule Restrictions On U.S. Family Planning Assistance

(Updated report published as What You Need To Know About the Mexico City Policy Restrictions On U.S. Family Planning Assistance)

On January 22, 2001—his second day in office—President George W. Bush announced the reinstatement of the restrictions on overseas health care organizations in effect during the mid-1980s and early 1990s, commonly known as the “Mexico City Policy.” The policy reversal has had serious ramifications for U.S. support for international family planning and reproductive health programs around the world.

The restrictions prohibit U.S. family planning assistance from being provided to foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that use funding from any other source to perform abortion in cases other than a threat to the life of the woman, rape or incest; to provide counseling and referral for abortion; or to lobby to make abortion legal or more available in their own country.

U.S. NGOs can continue to perform, counsel, refer or advocate on abortion with funds from non-U.S. government sources without risking their eligibility to receive U.S. family planning assistance. The only requirement imposed on U.S. NGOs by the Mexico City Policy restrictions is the responsibility to enforce the policy on their foreign NGO partners.

On March 28, 2001, President Bush formally issued restrictions virtually identical to those included in all NGO grants and cooperative agreements between 1985 and 1993 with one important clarification concerning post-abortion care. The presidential memorandum explicitly states that “any restrictions do not limit organizations from treating injuries and illnesses caused by legal or illegal abortions.”

The legal language used by the U.S.Agency for International Development (USAID) to implement the Mexico City Policy—called the “standard provisions”—requires foreign NGOs to certify that they do not “perform or actively promote abortion as a method of family planning” as a condition of receiving U.S. family planning assistance and will not do so while receiving such assistance. The longstanding prohibition on the direct use of U.S. foreign aid funds for most abortion-related activities (the 1973 Helms Amendment) remains in effect. [See checklist for additional details.]

Foreign family planning and reproductive health NGOs can engage in certain types of abortion-related activities and still remain eligible for U.S. population assistance. This brochure seeks to clarify the specific restrictions imposed by the policy in order to protect and preserve critical, life-saving reproductive health care services from an unnecessarily broad interpretation of what the standard provisions do and do not require.

None of the information contained in this brochure should be interpreted as an explicit or implied endorsement on the part of Population Action International, its Board of Directors, or staff of the Mexico City Policy or its implementation by the U.S. government.