Pontifications

Pontifications


Obama’s Mexico City repeal: A pro-life policy?

posted by David Gibson

President Obama today fulfilled a campaign promise by repealing the so-called “Mexico City policy” that prohibits U.S. funding for overseas non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that provide abortion as part of their services or as part of their maternal care counseling. (Hence its common name, “the global gag rule.”)
Even before it became official the move was drawing withering fire from some Catholic and pro-life advocates who saw this move as proof positive that Obama’s promise to be a “new Democrat” who wanted to find common ground on this issue was so much campaign rhetoric. Before you swallow that line, however, it’s worth checking the facts of the matter.
The 1984 policy was the brainchild of the Reagan administration and was announced at the United Nations International Conference on Population in Mexico City. (The language was negotiated by the deputy chairman of the U.S. delegation, Alan Keyes, then an Assistant Secretary of State, and later a perennial right-wing candidate in various states–he was drafted to try to beat Obama in Obama’s senate run in Illinois.)
Since then the policy has become a true political football: Bill Clinton reversed the policy as one of his first acts as president on Jan. 22, 1993, a date timed to coincide with the anniversary of Roe and the annual March for Life. Zing! Then on January 22, 2001, President George W. Bush reinstated the policy. Kapow!
Barack Obama, elected as a pro-choice candidate was under tremedous pressure to repeal the Mexico City policy on the same date: Bam! Take that, you pro-lifers! But he didn’t. He signed it late Friday afternoon, no media, no coverage, unlike other similar actions of a new president. No rubbing it in your face.
His pro-choice base isn’t happy, as witnessed by angry barbs at him from the left, but many pro-life advocates did appreciate the gesture even as they knew the policy reversal was inevitable.
“We’re thrilled,” said Ashley Horne, federal policy analyst at the conservative religious group Focus on the Family, told Politico.com. “All signs point to that he will probably do away with the policy at some point but we’re happy that for the time being that the Mexico City Policy is in place.” And CNS reported on negotiations between Catholic leaders and the Obama administration on the timing:

But in contacts with some Catholic leaders, representatives of the administration signaled that Obama is trying to be at least sensitive to timing, by declining to announce such a change while abortion protesters were marching in Washington and elsewhere.
Some Catholic leaders who have been in touch with Obama’s staff this week encouraged the administration to pair any such orders — which they see as a rollback of progress against abortion — with an announcement about new efforts to aid pregnant women, or otherwise help reduce demand for abortion.

That other “abortion reduction” shoe did not drop–though one is expected–and it’s unlikely that pro-lifers will hardly be mollified by a day’s delay. My colleague Steve Waldman noted the disappointment in his post today.
But it’s also a good time to ask whether the Mexico City policy is truly “pro-life,” and whether reversing it is really the “pro-abortion” move Obama’s critics contend. Could it be the other way around?
A few points to keep in mind:
One, reversing Mexico City will not mean U.S. taxpayers are funding abortions overseas. That remains against the law under the 1973 Helms Amendment. What can happen now is that U.S. money can go to groups that support health clinics, largely in the underdeveloped world, where abortion could be among their services, or they could provide information about abortion or a referral for an abortion.
Two, some might say that is a distinction without a difference, but the key distinction is that in the poorest regions of the world where health care is scarce, if it exists at all, there are no other options. A clinic will do everything, or it will do nothing at all. Especially as regards women’s health, one of the least-addressed problems in poor nations, clinics provide contraceptive and “birth spacing” advice, maternal care when women are pregnant, and deliver babies when they are due. They also treat infants and young children, many of whom would perish otherwise. And some perform abortions or tell women where they can go to get one, although that can be a life-threatening procedure not only for the fetus.
Three, so the well-documented upshot is that the Mexico City policy, when in effect, has cut off a lifeline to untold numbers of health clinics that are the sole outlet for millions of poor people–and has resulted in terrible sufferings for women and children, increased numbers of preganancies, and a greater number of abortions. A fact sheet from Third Way, which is associated with progressive religious groups like Faith in Public Life, has many of the numbers. For example:

• A joint report by the Guttmacher Institute and the United Nations Population Fund estimated that providing family planning services to the 201 million women in developing counties whose needs are unmet would prevent 52 million unintended pregnancies and 22 million abortions annually.
• The Planned Parenthood Association of Ghana provided family planning services to as many as 697,000 individuals. Their loss of funding as a result of the Mexico City policy affected the ability of 1,327 communities in Ghana to prevent unintended pregnancies and abortion.
• Over 99 percent of the estimated 536,000 women who die each year from pregnancy-related causes live in developing countries.8 If family planning needs were met for all women in the developing world who do not have access to contraception, pregnancy-related deaths would drop by 25-35 percent.
• As a result of the Mexico City policy, the Family Planning Association of Kenya (FPAK), the oldest and most established family planning NGO in Africa, was forced to close three clinics that had served an estimated 19,000 Kenyans. FPAK clinics, in addition to family planning services, provide prenatal, postnatal, and well baby care. Repealing the Mexico City policy would help save the lives of children worldwide by providing women with family planning services, enabling them to better space their pregnancies and deliver healthy children.

Other UN studies have shown the same human toll, and an article by St. John’s law professor Nina J. Crimm in the Cornell Law Journal also goes into great depth if you are looking for more. The section under “Adversities for Women,” pp. 27-28 on thr PDF, is especially on point:

Seventy percent of the world’s one billion poorest people are women. These are the women for whom “the most dangerous thing . . .[they] can do is to become pregnant.” They invariably live in developing countries where their access to health services depends exclusively or to a large extent on foreign NGOs whose programs are supported by FAA §2151b funds. In other words, these women are relegated to incomplete family planning counseling and thereby are denied full information, self determined control over their fertility,and self-dignity. They can receive neither abortion referrals nor safe abortions from these NGOs.
Their lives are endangered. Numerous statistics attest to the harm to these women. These women have a likelihood of dying from pregnancy complications at a rate more
than 500 times that of women in the United States. Even in the 61% of the world’s nations where abortions are legal, such as South Africa and Nepal which permit abortions upon a woman’s request during the first twelve weeks of pregnancy, complications from unsafe abortions continue.

The testimony to the suffering on the ground, not just in statistics, also adds an indispensible human elelment to a debate that can be framed as just another black-white, right-wrong, left-right dichotomy. The Times’ columnist Nick Kristof has writtn regularly and chillingly about the gag rule’s effects and he put it as one of the first three things he’d like to see Obama repeal (along with closing Guantanamo and ending torture byt the U.S.).
Will any of this satisfy dedicated pro-lifers? Probably not. On an ethical level, they can argue that any funding of clinics that provide information on abortion (or contraception) is tantamount to “cooperation with evil,” as the phrase goes. But the reality is more complex, in that we are guilty for what we DON’T do as much as what we do. Doing nothing also condemns many to death or needless suffering. Doing something may make us complicit in another form of evil, but it may also lesen the amount and degree of that evil.
Choice is hard. Remember that before you make your own choice here.



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dannyboy

posted January 23, 2009 at 4:53 pm


hoice is hard? Woah. Deep stuff.
Because ‘pro-lifers’ who refuse to be ‘satisfied’ by false moral reasoning are simpletons about the difficulty of virtue, obviously.
The end does not justify the means. Using wicked means to accomplish good ends is never right from a Catholic perspective, even if the wicked means could alleviate much suffering. This article seems to want to defend just that. When Obama and the Guttmacher Institute say ‘reducing unwanted pregnancies’ and ‘family planning’, 99% of the time they mean contraceptives and abortifacient drugs. In what universe are such means licit from a genuine Catholic perspective?
Even more deadly is the false dichotomy in the argument which attempts to place the blame for all that suffering on the Mexico City policy and its supporters. We must either choose between abortion clinics that hand out contraceptives along with their legitimate medical services, or nothing at all? Only if the doctors and clinics are so wedded to their culture of death ideology that they refuse to moderate their practices in order to receive funding. It is the directors of these clinics and the doctors who work in them who are to blame for all that suffering, not the Americans who insist that clinics respect the human rights of both women and children before we will fund them!
I hope the author is just morally confused, and not deliberately misleading his readers.
peace



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marie

posted January 23, 2009 at 7:55 pm


The author should be aware that the Mexico City Policy did not reduce the total amount of dollars dispensed, it simply targeted aid to those providers (and there are and were plenty of them) that do not perform or refer for abortion. Contraception remained funded. Only organizations like good old Planned Parenthood that stood on the principle that the right to kill the unborn was essential to their work were forced to forego funding. Could their commitment to terminating pregnancies have caused “suffering on the ground”? Does the author really think abortion is necessary to provide family planning?



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Your Name

posted January 23, 2009 at 10:15 pm


Here’s an even better idea. Maybe if people don’t want kids, they shoudl use contraception, and when that fails, they shoudl abort their fetuses HMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM.
And maybe, just maybe, people who don’t personally think that’s the right choice can mind their own beeswax for ONCE. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.
Maybe they can simply choose to live thier lives as they see fit and let others do the same. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.
Whaddaya think?



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Chrissy G

posted January 24, 2009 at 12:32 am


“FPAK clinics, in addition to family planning services, provide prenatal, postnatal, and well baby care.”
FPAK and other such organizations were unwilling to cross the first item off their list in order to receive funding for the other three? I can’t imagine how that can be construed as acting in women’s best interest.



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pagansister

posted January 24, 2009 at 1:01 pm


Prevention of pregnancy via the use of contraception is just common sense. It prevents the possibility of having to decide whether to continue a pregnancy or not. The other health care services also prevent death of not only babies but the mothers as well. The option to abort or not should be offered and left up to the woman involved, and no one else. Obama did the right thing. I find it hard to believe that other presidents, “W” included found it necessary to push their personal beliefs on others who are in such dire need of help.



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Jack Alexander

posted January 24, 2009 at 2:42 pm


the writer has brought another oxymoron into our lexicon….
intelligent discourse….NOT



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Reaganite in NYC

posted January 24, 2009 at 4:09 pm


AP: Vatican criticizes Obama for ending ban on taxpayer funds for groups offering abortions
Dated: January 24, 2009, 9:29 AM
VATICAN CITY (AP) — Vatican officials said Saturday they were disappointed by President Barack Obama’s decision to end a ban on federal funding for international groups that perform abortions or provide information on them.
Monsignor Rino Fisichella, who heads the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life, urged Obama to listen to all voices in America without “the arrogance of those who, being in power, believe they can decide of life and death.” Fisichella said in an interview published Saturday in Corriere della Sera that “if this is one of President Obama’s first acts, I have to say, in all due respect, that we’re heading quickly toward disappointment.”
Obama signed an executive order that ended the ban on Friday, reversing the policy of the Bush administration.
“This deals a harsh blow not only to us Catholics but to all the people across the world who fight against the slaughter of innocents that is carried out with the abortion,” another top official with the Academy for Life, Monsignor Elio Sgreccia, told the ANSA news agency.
“Among the many good things that he could have done, Barack Obama instead chose the worst,” Monsignor Sgreccia was quoted as saying Saturday.



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Your Name

posted January 24, 2009 at 6:36 pm


we can give money for family planning. we can give money to the poorest nations in the world to assist woman and children. that is what is needed. what is not needed is for those same “clinics” to offer abortion.
seems to me that certain people think that their opinions are the only ones that matter. HMMMMMMMMMMMMM……..let’s abort all the babies in the world because we want 1 second of pleasure. if we all mind our own business and don’t LOVE OUR NEIGHBORS then the rest of the world will fall to pieces. we are interdependant. that’s the way the good LORD made us.



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pagansister

posted January 24, 2009 at 10:28 pm


“your name”:
Your good LORD doesn’t have to try and feed a baby when there isn’t food enough for those already in the house..if indeed the poor woman actually has a house.
The ideal is for birth control to be taught and provided, but when that doesn’t work (birth control as I’m sure you know isn’t fool or people proof) then the woman has a right to either terminate or get help from those clinics with the pregnancy. Thus the money provided for those agencies to do whatever they can to help the women with education and medical care.



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Linda

posted January 25, 2009 at 1:11 pm


Thank you for a very eloquent presentation of the Mexico City Policy, and providing us with information that is not given by the right wingers. We live in a very cultural centric America. Many of us have failed to see that women in these these countries have few rights over their selves or their bodies. Education and medical help and council go a long way. Thank you for providing your insight.



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Scot McKnight

posted January 25, 2009 at 1:23 pm


There is an alternative to your dichtomous set of alternatives: provide funds for NGOs that don’t provide access to abortions.



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marie

posted January 25, 2009 at 5:54 pm


pagansister –
Your argument that abortion must be made available as a backstop to birth control is a perfect argument against birth control. If you’re right, those of us who don’t accept the skull crushing cruelty of abortion might argue against providing contraceptives. Again, to restate the obvious, the United States for decades has been continually providing contraception. Only those orgs that insisted that they also had to abort or refer for abortion were excluded during the Bush years. So, either contraception can be made available without providing abortions, or it can’t. The Republicans draw the line in providing poor third-worlders family planning at abortion. The Democrats say abortion should be funded too. Maybe they are both misguided, patronizing and racist.



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Your Name

posted January 26, 2009 at 8:01 am


Since you edited the last line of my last comment, let me try to say what I meant to say in a more palatable way. “Maybe they (Republican and Democratic international planning policies) are both misguided, patronizing and racist (and sexist), but only one of them funds the termination of human persons.” The way you edited my comment made it read as if I were suggesting that there was moral equivalence between the two policies, which I most certainly do not believe. If this comment is too incendiary for you, please delete my former one as well because, as edited, it misrepresents what I wrote.



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Your Name

posted January 26, 2009 at 10:10 am


Marie –
“Again, to restate the obvious, the United States for decades has been continually providing contraception. Only those orgs that insisted that they also had to abort or refer for abortion were excluded during the Bush years.”
This comment ignores a crucial fact that comes out clearly in the Third Way brief – the groups that were de-funded b/c of the rule were often the only organization providing family planning services, so when Bush reactivated the policy there wasn’t anyone there to fill the gap. In other words, U.S. funds didn’t just get re-routed to the “pro-life” organization, because in many cases there was no such back-up ready to take up the work of delivering family planning services. That is why the true legacy of the gag rule is the thousands of maternal deaths that could have been averted were it not for our warped and misguided abortion politics.



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marie

posted January 26, 2009 at 1:48 pm


So the pro-abort groups were so determined to continue abortion services that they preferred to give up their US government funding for family planning, which in turn resulted in an alleged increase of “thousands of maternal deaths that could have been averted were in not for” OUR warped and misguided abortion politics? How about THEIR warped and misguided policies? Abortion rights at any price is downright creepy. Think of it this way. Some group offers you money to do some things you think are good, but the group won’t provide the money if you do or assist in something alot of people in the group think is very, very wrong. Unless you think the agreed upon good can only be provided if the prohibited thing is also provided, why would you turn down the funding if you honestly believed maternal lives were at stake if you didn’t get the funding? That sounds like warped abortion politics to me.



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nza

posted January 26, 2009 at 10:50 pm


US funding for these organizations is not that simple. Christian Aid, based out of the UK, refuses USAID because of this policy and their refusal to adopt the ABC method of contraception, which is based on moralistic principles instead of life saving ones. Instead the chose the SAVE method of contraception, which actually saves lives.
Also, USAID was stripped from NGO’s working with doctors in Uganda and the Congo (where abortion is illegal), because doctors lobbied their governments to de-criminalize abortion due to the massive amounts of women who had been raped by rebel soldiers, coming in to seek help. It is complicated and neither side of the debate has it all.



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marie

posted January 27, 2009 at 2:31 pm


NZA – Would it be complicated for you if the NGO’s who might otherwise be doing good work also had a policy of euthanizing AIDs patients “in order to save lives”? (Imagine there was some academic statistical work (suspect though it may be) suggesting that offing those who carried the AIDS virus resulted in a net saving of human lives.) Would it be too moralistic for you if the US refused to fund such NGO’s despite their mixed record and their utilitarian claim to be saving lives by eliminating people? Maybe I’m just a simpleton, but that doesn’t seem like a tough moral question to me.



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nza

posted January 27, 2009 at 3:42 pm


OK,
hyperbole on this debate does not help. I’m sorry, but your example is in no way comparable. It sounds like you are just indifferent to the plight of raped women,those who suffer from inadequate health care and who are subject to the threat of AIDS. And as you claim to follow Christ, I would be surprised if that is so. Christian AID is a Christian NGO (hence the name) They have determined a better approach to HIV prevention and protection, that follows the SAVE method, not the ABC method that is demanded by USAID. Please feel free to educate yourself on this and then offer creative insight and solutions. http://www.infoforhealth.org/popreporter/2006/04-17.shtml



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marie

posted January 27, 2009 at 6:34 pm


Please feel free to educate yourself on the meaning of the word “hyperbole” (just kidding, please don’t read any ill will into that). Actually, what I suggested to you was a “hypothetical” which is, in terms of Christian morality, is clearly applicable to the case of the abortion providing/aiding NGO’s, but feel free to point out distinctions for me. Instead of addressing the hypothetical, you suggested that I may be indifferent to the suffering of women. I assure you that is not so. As for the relative merits of the ABC or SAVE program, they are only relevant to our moral disagreement to the extent that SAVE provides or aids in the procurement of abortions. I can’t tell whether that is the case from the material you cite. I suspect (and correct me if I am wrong) that we simply disagree at to when a person’s right not to be “terminated” begins. Again, I am guessing that you see that right beginning at birth (surely you wouldn’t counsel killing a newborn because he was the result of rape, or was disabled, or caused his mother legitimate distress for whatever reason). As convenient as it would be for me to agree with you, my reason and heart won’t permit it, and I recognize that innocent unborn persons created by God deserve protection from direct killing.



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nza

posted January 27, 2009 at 10:48 pm


hy?per?bo?le? ?[hahy-pur-buh-lee] Show IPA Pronunciation
–noun Rhetoric.
1. obvious and intentional exaggeration.
2. an extravagant statement or figure of speech not intended to be taken literally, as “to wait an eternity.”
I hold a very traditional Jewish biblical view of the value of the life as a fetus, and I don’t know how else to hold it. But still, now you are saying that the life of a fetus is more valuable than the life of a mother. There is a better way, a much more creative way than simply playing political football with a policy that affects millions of lives no matter where you see life beginning. Let’s go out and find it.



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Your Name

posted January 28, 2009 at 8:18 am


Maybe you are not familiar with the use of hypotheticals to test a proposition. It is not hyperbolic to propose an imagined analogous fact scenario to test competing claims. My claim is that it is immoral to fund well-intentioned NGO’s that insist that human terminations are necessary to their business. I do not claim that an unborn person’s life is more valuable that the life of the mother. Questioning the moral implications of our policy choices is not “playing political football”. There is no doubt that we must cooperate in helping one another, but I am still unconvinced that abortion must be part of the equation and be funded by those who sincerely oppose it.



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nza

posted January 28, 2009 at 11:41 am


Christian Aid does not fund or promote abortion. Check the link and read. However, they do not subscribe to our government’s abstinence first policy. They believe that HIV is an evil and destructive virus not an immoral ethic. The hypothesis that you gave is absurd. How would killing AIDS victims ever save lives. This is boring. I’m out.



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marie

posted January 28, 2009 at 3:32 pm


Your responses are typical: this is complex, you are mean, why can’t we just get along?, and then, I’m bored. If Christian Aid does not perform or refer for abortion, why did you bring them up, as abortion was the subject at hand? Nobody claimed HIV was “an immoral ethic” – whatever that would mean. You again refuse to address the hypothetical – which I think proposes a horrid idea – but one which tests the principle at issue. You need to develop some reasoning skills to go along with your good intentions. Good luck.



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pagansister

posted January 28, 2009 at 3:44 pm


marie:
An abortion is an option….not to be forced. Obviously birth control is the best solution. Birth control should lead to fewer abortions…a simple fact. However under circumstances decided by the woman herself, the option to terminate a pregnancy should be available. No doubt in my mind that some of these woman who didn’t have access to a safe termination probably did the procedure themselves, ( women have been doing that for centuries) at great risk to their health …and if they died the children they might have already had had no mother. So I disagree with you. It really is up to the woman…not you or me to decide for some other woman what to do. And has been brought up by someone else above, women who get raped and violated by soldiers (or any man) shouldn’t have to carry a pregnancy caused by that awful experience to term. Money for health care shouldn’t be terminated if abortions are also done by the organization, IMO.



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marie

posted January 28, 2009 at 5:47 pm


Pagansister – I respect your honesty. You think all women should have the option to abort, and that “the money” (presumably US tax dollars) should be there to help make it happen. But surely you can understand why someone might believe that reason alone points to the conclusion that a human person exists in the womb, and that the purposeful killing of that person is profoundly wrong if any of us is to have a claim to continue living. I do not doubt the sincerity and compassion of those who take your view, but I cannot condone nor do I wish to underwrite the intentional killing of innocent humans. Children can bring terrible hardship and suffering for parents, but that does not change their status as human beings with the same right not to be killed that you and I enjoy. I don’t see a principled distinction between the inherent claim to continued life of a child before or after his or her birthday. Would you condone a mother’s right to eliminate a child the day he were born if that child were to bring hardship, shame, or other suffering to the mother? I doubt it. I don’t see how an unborn child’s age really changes the equation. You still have to kill to make him or her stop living. Look, it might make alot of women’s lives better and easier if they could kill their disabled children and infirm parents. We don’t permit that, because we recognize the inherent dignity of the intended victims, burdensome as that may be. Let’s help one another with our burdens, instead of eliminating human lives.



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nza

posted January 31, 2009 at 10:18 pm


Marie,
The subject at hand was not abortion, but the Repeal of the Mexico City Policy, which has everything to do with Christian Aid and other development organizations like them. Under the Mexico City policy, not only did it mandate a strict abortion policy that does not even allow post-abortion counsel, but it also imposes stiff rules on how HIV prevention is dealt with. This has led to many development groups to refuse USAID under the Mexico City Policy, as they do not adhere to these enforced methods of contraceptive regulation. Did you fail to read the link I provided, just as you failed to read the title of this forum? I do hold that abortion is a moral issue, but let’s reserve that debate for the appropriate forum.



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marie

posted February 4, 2009 at 12:42 pm


NZA
The entire post above is about the Mexico City Policy repeal. Prior to its recent repeal, the policy was codified at 22 U.S.C. 2151b(f)(1)), and prohibited nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that receive federal funds from using those funds “to pay for the performance of abortions as a method of family planning, or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions.” Are you perhaps confusing the requirements of the Mexico City Policy (which is about abortion), with requirements under PEPFAR (which relates to the use of AIDS prevention funds)? They are separate provisions of the law. You may want to look them up. It’s big of you that you “hold that abortion is a moral issue” – but maybe your participation in a “debate” on the issue should await a little more mature study and reflection. Again, good luck to you.



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