On Jan. 23, three days after assuming the office of President of the United States, Donald Trump signed an executive order banning the use of foreign aid money for the provision or promotion of abortion.
In 1984 at the United Nations Population Conference in Mexico City, President Ronald Reagan announced the so-called Mexico City Policy, a presidential executive order which required the United States Agency for International Development to withhold USAID funds from non-government organizations that advise, counsel, or carry out abortions, or lobby foreign governments to liberalize their abortion laws. In 1993, Bill Clinton rescinded the policy immediately after assuming the presidency. President George W. Bush reinstated the policy when he entered the office and Barack Obama once again rescinded it upon becoming president. The policy has exceptions for abortion in cases of rape, incest, or life-threatening conditions. Bush expanded the policy to including family planning, not just abortion.
When Trump did not sign an executive order reinstating the Mexico City Policy on his first day, six Republican senators including Ted Cruz (Texas), Rand Paul (Kentucky), and Mike Lee (Utah), introduced a resolution in the Senate calling upon the new president to bring back the policy.
Three days later, after the President signed the new executive order, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said in a press briefing, that Trump “wants to stand up for all Americans, including the unborn.” Talking about the executive order, Spicer said, “I think the reinstatement of this policy is not just something that echoes that value, but respects taxpayer funding, as well, and ensures that we’re standing up not just for life, for life of the unborn, but for also taxpayer funds that are being spent overseas to perform an action that is contrary to the values of this president, and, I think, continue to further illustrate, not just to the folks here in this country, but around the world, of what a value we place on life.”
Pro-abortion groups and politicians call the policy the “global gag rule” because they say it silences NGOs on the issue of abortion. But in the past, at least, International Planned Parenthood and Mary Stopes International have refused USAID funding rather than limit their abortion activity.
Dawn Laguens, executive director of Planned Parenthood, said “women will die because of this action,” although she did not offer evidence for her claim. Abortion activists claim that millions of women die annually due to illegal and unsafe abortion in the developing world.
Trump went beyond what previous Republican administrations have done by directing the Secretary of State to implement a plan that expands the policy to all global health assistance funding, for example international organizations like the United Nations Population Fund. Steve Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute, said Trump’s executive order is “absolutely” more comprehensive than its predecessors because it now applies to “global health assistance furnished by all departments or agencies” and not just USAID family planning programs, and it now covers “involuntary sterilizations” in addition to abortion. “Trump is not just reverting to the policy of previous Republican administrations, but is actually going well beyond it.”
Rep. Chris Smith (R, New Jersey), who co-chairs the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, said, “By redirecting taxpayer dollars away from the international abortion industry, President Trump has re-instituted life-affirming protections for unborn children and their mothers.” Senator Ben Sasse (R, Nebraska) said the Mexico City Policy respects American taxpayers who do not want to be complicit in abortions abroad.
Other pro-life leaders also applauded the announcement.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said reinstating the ban on American foreign aid funding abortions is “a vital step in the journey to make America great again, recognizing and affirming the universal ideal that all human beings have inherent worth and dignity.” Perkins also noted that the executive order fulfilled a Trump campaign promise and aligns with the Republican Party platform that states the Mexico City Policy should be restored.
Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, said in a statement “the U.S. shouldn’t be in the business of funding those who kill innocent unborn children” and that “President Trump’s reinstatement is a big, early pro-life victory at the federal level.”
Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, said in a statement: “This is a great start to the Trump presidency and we hope this is only the beginning of defunding Planned Parenthood and the end of forcing American taxpayers to fund an industry that ends hundreds of thousands of innocent lives a year and irreparably harms women.”
Barbara Listing of Right to Life Michigan also approved of the policy, saying “abortion shouldn’t be an American export.”
Dutch Trade and Development Minister Lilianne Ploumen announced the Netherlands government would establish a fund to fill the gap left by the Mexico City Policy, saying she would approach the European Union, non-EU governments, and private companies to donate to the fund.
Canada’s Campaign Life Coalition called upon Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to “join our American neighbours in putting an end to abortion funding in the developing world,” calling the practice a “new form of colonialism” because it foists western policy preferences on countries in Africa, South America, and Asia. Johanne Brownrigg, CLC government relations officer, said in a statement that Canadians are divided on abortion but united in opposition to paying for it, and that “there is no moral imperative to fund abortion abroad, in particular to ‘fill the gap’ created by President Trump’s implementing the Mexico City Policy.”
Canadian International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said at a federal cabinet retreat in Calgary on Jan. 24, that her government is “committed to the protection and promotion of the health and rights of women and girls globally – especially their sexual and reproductive health and rights.” She said that included Canadian funding for contraception, family planning, and abortion in the developing world through Canadian aid programs.
In 2010, then prime minister Stephen Harper resisted calls to include abortion as part of his maternal health initiatives at the G7 and United Nations. Last year, the Trudeau government announced Ottawa would restore foreign aid funding for abortion, including maternal health programs.