Steven Waldman

Steven Waldman


Is Repealing the Anti-Abortion “Gag Rule” Actually a Pro-Life Position?

posted by swaldman

I admit when I first saw the paper from Third Way arguing that repealing the Mexico City gag rule would reduce the number of abortions, I figured it was a clever bit of spin to assuage pro-life Obama supporters, irritated that he’d overturned the ban.
But I have to admit, their memo on this is quite thought provoking. So far the pro-life folks are viewing Obama’s step as harshly pro-abortion, with Bill Donohue adding that it’s racist too. (“Here we have a black president taking money from the taxpayers in a time of economic crisis and giving it to organizations–many of which are anti-Catholic–so they can spend it on killing non-white babies in Third World nations.”)
When I get rebuttals to the points below, I’ll post them here, and we’ll see if the Third Way argument fall apart. Here’s the case presented by Third Way’s Rachel Laser and Nikki Yamashiro:

Repealing the Mexico City Policy: A Life-Affirming Action
U.S. foreign family planning aid is a life-affirming, common ground policy that transcends abortion but has unfortunately gotten caught in the political web of abortion politics.
The “Mexico City” policy, reinstated in 2001, introduced sweeping restrictions for U.S. family planning funding for foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). These restrictions have led to dire health outcomes in the world’s poorest countries, from pregnancy-related deaths to the spread of HIV/AIDS. They have also had the effect of increasing the number of abortions by denying basic access to contraception and thus increasing the rate of unintended pregnancy. Even former President George W. Bush acknowledged problems with the policy when he exempted funding for U.S. HIV/AIDS assistance from the Mexico City policy restrictions.
It is time to disentangle U.S. foreign family planning aid from abortion politics and separate myths from facts. Reforming U.S. foreign family planning aid by repealing the Mexico City policy is a life-affirming step.
Fact: The repeal would not fund abortion.
Since 1973, the Helms Amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act has explicitly banned the use of U.S. taxpayer funds for abortions overseas.4 Repealing the Mexico City policy would do nothing to change this.
Fact: The repeal would reduce the number of abortions worldwide.
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. Repealing the Mexico City policy would reduce the number of abortions worldwide by restoring desperately needed family planning services to some of the poorest countries in the world.

Fact: The repeal would prevent countless pregnancy-related deaths and illnesses worldwide.
Over 99% 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%.

• The Mexico City policy has lead to the loss of USAID-supplied contraceptives in 16 developing countries throughout Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Repealing the Mexico City policy would help save the lives of women worldwide by restoring needed family planning services.

Fact: The repeal would save the lives of countless children worldwide.
In developing counties, the timing and spacing of pregnancies plays a significant role in children’s health. For example, in Kenya, if women were able to better space their pregnancies, mortality rates for children under 5 years of age would fall by an estimated 17%.

• 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.

Fact: The repeal would fight the spread of HIV/AIDS and other STIs.
Family planning NGOs play a key role in combating the spread of HIV/AIDS and other STIs in developing countries, saving the lives of countless men, women and children. Repealing the Mexico City policy would restore critical funding for HIV/AIDS and other STI prevention information and services.

• Without intervention and at the current rate of infection, about half of the youth who are now age 15 in Zambia will likely die of AIDS.

The Planned Parenthood Association of Zambia, whose work includes reaching young people with information and services aimed at preventing the transmission of HIV/AIDS, has lost 24% of its funding and almost 40% of its staff as a result of the Mexico City policy.
Fact: The repeal would restore a wide range of health services.
As a result of the Mexico City policy, clinics that provide a number of healthcare services, in addition to family planning services, are struggling and in some cases have closed.

• The loss of USAID funding resulted in the Family Planning Association of Kenya (FPAK) and Marie Stopes International Kenya closing a number of clinics that provided pre- and post-natal care, child immunizations, infant and child check-ups, and malaria screening and treatment. FPAK is also Kenya’s primary provider of Pap smear tests for cervical cancer.

UPDATE: David Gibson agrees with this argument.
UPDATE #2: National Right to Life Committee put out this press release which partly counters the Third Way arguments:

“One effect of Obama’s order will be to divert many millions of dollars away from groups that do not promote abortion, and into the hands of those organizations that are the most aggressive in promoting abortion in developing countries, [says Douglas Johnson]. “President Obama not long ago told the American people that he would support policies to reduce abortions, but today he is effectively guaranteeing more abortions by funding groups that promote abortion as a method of population control.”
Contrary to some misunderstandings, enforcement of the Mexico City Policy did not reduce the amount of money spent on the program, nor will Obama’s order increase the amount (which is $461 million in the current fiscal year). Rather, the policy affects what type of groups qualify for grants under the program. “Obama’s order will predictably result in a redirection of funds to groups such as the International Planned Parenthood Federation, which are ideologically committed to the doctrine that abortion on demand must be universally available as a birth control method,” Johnson said.
Although Obama’s order will result in major subsidies for organizations that promote abortion overseas, the direct use of the U.S. funds to perform abortion procedures will remain unlawful under the Helms Amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act. “The Helms Amendment can be changed only by an act of Congress, but because the Obama Administration is joined at the hip with the abortion lobby, we will be watching carefully for any evidence that the Administration is failing to enforce the Helms Amendment,” Johnson said.
The details of the Mexico City Policy are spelled out in an official handbook issued by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which is available on request from NRLC (in PDF format). Basically, the policy required grantees to refrain from performing abortions (except to save the life of the mother, or in cases of rape or incest), or lobbying to legalize abortion, or otherwise promoting abortion as a family-planning method. The policy explicitly allowed responding to questions about where abortions may be obtained, in countries in which abortions are legal.



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Comments read comments(34)
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Ellen

posted January 23, 2009 at 2:26 pm


This has been addressed many times. Try this:
http://www.usccb.org/prolife/issues/abortion/intissues.shtml
And don’t ignore the issue: Do all taxpayers want to be funding abortions with their tax dollars?



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Colin

posted January 23, 2009 at 2:32 pm


Great find, Steve.
I doubt very much that President Obama would repeal the Mexico City Policy simply because it is de rigueur for Democratic Presidents. Rather, as Obama’s approach to the transition and his early days in office suggest, he is a leader whose every decision is based on facts, analysis and careful thought. Thus it is no surprise that a well-researched report finds that the Mexico City policy, which Obama is poised to repeal, actually decreases the likelihood of abortions and saves lives.
I am confidant that each time Obama enters the abortion arena, his decisions are not based on dogma, but facts. And, as a result, I’m confidant that he can stay true to his campaign promise to actually reduce the number of abortions, which Bush did not do. Repealing Mexico City is a step in that direction.



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John Michel

posted January 23, 2009 at 2:52 pm


Assuming the accuracy of the numbers in this article (which I cannot independently confirm or deny at this time), the argument made here still falls flat. The author makes the mistake common in liberal thought: that the quality of human life is measured in earthly comfort, success, wealth, or health; that a child born with a terminal illness is better off not being born at all.
Even without considering real moral and religious issues, the liberal point of view consistently fails to remember the source of our rights — our Creator. The Declaration of Independence only recognizes that we are endowed with a right to LIFE by our Creator, it does not grant that right because such an action is beyond the scope and power of any government. Therefore, as a bystander in the process, the government is likewise not empowered to define or restrict that right. And it is certainly not empowered to define human life. It is required only to protect that right.
It is a moral paradox to assume that you can protect life IN PRINCIPLE by supporting the taking of life for some. Any reduction in actual abortions or “unwanted pregnancies” is irrelevant to the issue. The issue is support for the taking of innocent human life, and as a country, we are either protectors or violators of the most basic human right.
The requirement of the Mexico City Policy is that the recipients of U.S. aid simply stop including abortion as part of their activities. The responsibility then lies strictly with them. We as U.S. taxpayers should not be obligated to financially support infanticide in contradiction to our constitution so that foreign programs may choose how they spend our money. It is like giving money to a homeless man who would rather buy alcohol than food.
It is out of respect for life that the Mexico City Policy was enacted, and it should be supported out of respect for life.



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Tim Chambers

posted January 23, 2009 at 2:53 pm


Just looking at the docs you linked to Ellen… at least this one:
The Mexico City Policy (MCP): False Criticisms & the Facts
Has a pretty weak argument there claiming to debunk the idea that the MCP causes an increased abortion rate due to lack of support for family planning.
It seems to argue that
A: any funds not going to some NGO’s do go to others – so no harm is done to overall family planning efforts
and
B. it questions if family planning efforts really effect abortion rate.
Did i read those arguments right?
if so: I can easily see that not ALL NGO’s are equally effective,and that even if every dollar DID go to one NGO or another…but it would be nice to see a source to that claim for ALL countries effected. They only sourced two.
Even assuming that true that the MCP could still be shutting down the most effective ones, thus effecting the abortion rate negatively.
In essence the USCB doc did not prove that the dollars going to NGO’s that approve the terms of the MPC are equally effective as those who lost funding.
Point B, if i understood it correctly I think is just wrong. Lots of studies have shown the correlation between family planning and contraception use to lowered abortion rates.



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Tim Chambers

posted January 23, 2009 at 3:06 pm


And the updated Right to Life argument:
“Contrary to some misunderstandings, enforcement of the Mexico City Policy did not reduce the amount of money spent on the program…”
Seems to fall into the same flawed argument to my eyes.
You would still need to prove that not only were the same dollars spent (including good sourcing on that fact) but also that they were spent in ways that were roughly as effective.
Shouldn’t that be relatively checkable looking at the unintended pregnancy and/or abortion rates in the effected countries?



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Bill

posted January 23, 2009 at 5:27 pm


Mr. Waldman: In the title of this post, your use of the term “Pro-Life Position” is unclear at best, if not misleading.
If by “Pro-Life Position” you simply mean a position that will decrease the total statistical count of abortions, then you could just say so. But here is the beginning of the “Pro-Life” entry in Wikipedia:
— BEGIN WIKIPEDIA QUOTE —
Pro-life is a term representing a variety of perspectives and activist movements in bioethics. It most commonly (especially in the media and popular discourse) refers to opposition to abortion and support for fetal rights. The term describes the political and ethical view which maintains that fetuses and embryos are human beings, and therefore have a right to live.
— END WIKIPEDIA QUOTE —
I think it would be quite difficult to argue that repealing the MCP would somehow support the rights of fetuses and embryos.



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Julie

posted January 23, 2009 at 9:14 pm


Throughout the Presidential Campaign Douglas Johnson, National Right to Life spread the false statements about the “born alive” issue. He did not let facts get in his way. The born alive accusations were proved wrong by FactCheck, PolitiFact, the Illinois Republican Senator that introduced the “born alive” bills, and other sources..
As a result, I would not trust anything from Douglas Johnson.
The wording from Obama’s inauguration speech that was in Steven’s earlier article has been Obama’s position throughout the campaign. No one should be surprised that Obama is pro-choice based on Constitutional rights to privacy.
Sarah Palin can attest to results of not supporting birth control. Her daughters is luckier than most teens her age because her parents are supporting her in a nice lifestyle.



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Tim Chambers

posted January 24, 2009 at 4:55 pm


I’ve also looked up research here…
http://www.bc.edu/schools/law/lawreviews/meta-elements/journals/bctwj/24_1/10_TXT.htm
…Documenting very real losses due to the Mexico City Policy….
“Another practical effect of the Mexico City Policy has been the closure of family planning clinics due to USAID’s withdrawal of funding, notably in sub-Saharan Africa. Seventeen centers in Uganda, five centers in Kenya, one outreach program serving poor communities in Ethiopia, and several clinics in Tanzania have closed for this reason.
In Kenya alone, the five clinics that closed served tens of thousands of women. They provided basic services that many poor women could not otherwise afford or access, including well-baby care, pre- and post-natal obstetric care, HIV testing and counseling, and contraception.
In order to avoid closing seven more health posts and one maternal nursing home when President Bush imposed the global gag rule, health care provider Marie Stopes International of Kenya laid off one-fifth of its staff, cut the remaining employees’ salaries, reorganized its clinic structure, and increased client fees.
The country’s other leading reproductive health provider, the Family Planning Association of Kenya, laid off nearly one-third of its staff, raised patient fees, and cut salaries in order to keep its remaining clinics open and running without U.S. funding.”
But I can’t find any evidence that USAID funding went to other NGO’s in the area to make up for the losses documented here…If this research is correct, there ended up simply being less family care.
The same study describes how the Mexico City Policy would weaken what healthcare work did still occur:
“Specifically, the Policy has forced groups that receive USAID grants and disperse this funding to foreign programs to judge the abortion stance of their potential grantees, rather than allowing them to select programs that could provide increased access to quality family planning services.
For example, Pathfinder International has conducted reproductive health work abroad for more than forty-five years. Without the rule, Pathfinder would create local partnerships based on a program’s cost effectiveness, its capacity to reach the “poorest of the poor,” its commitment to helping clients, and the quality of care it provides. Because of the global gag rule, however, Pathfinder’s overriding question has become, ‘How against abortion is this organization?'”



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Your Name

posted January 25, 2009 at 2:37 pm


Is Repealing the Anti-Abortion “Gag Rule” Actually a Pro-Life Position?
YES!!!



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Your Name

posted January 26, 2009 at 12:35 pm


The Guttmacher institute concludes that lifting the Mexico City Policy is pro-life.
The Guttmacher institute is the research wing of Planned Parenthood.
Planned Parenthood makes most of its $ from doing abortions.
Hmmm……



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