USAID is risk-y business

Taylor, my foster dog, beats Dinosaur in Risk


There are few matters of domestic policy that have inspired as much controversy in foreign affairs as the issue of reproductive rights.  For at least the last four decades the United States has used funding through USAID as a tool to implement policies in other countries that reflect the current attitudes in US politics.  The Mexico City Policy, the highly controversial policy that restricts fund-receiving organizations from promoting abortion-related services, is a primary example of how the US has used USAID to implement domestic priorities on foreign affairs.

In 1973, an amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act called the Helms Amendment was passed that prohibited USAID from being used for abortion as a method of family planning but still allowed funding for post-abortion care.  The Mexico City Policy was then signed in to law by President Regan in 1984 that prohibited USAID from being used to “promote” abortion as a means of family planning, ultimately limiting organizations from providing care related to abortions.  Interestingly, this now controversial policy was originally intended to stop China from performing forced abortions, a direct attempt to control foreign politics through US assistance[1].  Since the Helms Amendment and the Mexico City Policy, there have been a series of acts restricting funds for abortion, research, services, and political lobbying in other countries, which tend to coincide with the political climate of the United States[2].  The Mexico City Policy has been rescinded and reenacted with each new administration, making it a clear example of how the politics in the United States affect other countries.  President Bush maintained the policy upon reelection in 1989, President Clinton rescinded in 1993, President Bush reinstated the policy on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade in 2001, and President Obama rescinded in 2009.

The 2003 Action to Reduce Maternal Mortality in Africa called on the global community to oppose the Mexico City Policy.  The Action declared that the policy impeded efforts to reduce unsafe abortions and that governments (particularly in Africa) need to be accountable to their citizens by opposing the policy.[3]  The policy has more likely increased global abortion by restricting access and information to family planning services,[4] which is not what was intended by the policy’s creation[5].  In 2009, President Obama rescinded the Mexico City Policy acknowledging that the provisions are “broad and unwarranted under current law” and the policy has “undermined efforts to promote safe and effective voluntary family planning in developing countries.”[6]  It is interesting that the laws and morals of the United States impact the social, economic, and legal landscape of countries receiving USAID.


[1] International Conference on Population, E/-CONF.76/-19 (Mexico City 1984)

[2] Leahy Amendment; Siljander Amendment; Biden Amendment

[3] Action to Reduce Maternal Mortality in Africa: A Regional Consultation on Unsafe Abortion (Addis Ababa 2003)

[4] Barbara B. Crane, Power and Politics in International Funding for Reproductive Health: the US Global Gag Rule, Reproductive Health Matters (2004)

[5] International Conference on Population, E/CONF/76/-19 (Mexico City 1984)

[6] Office of the Press Secretary, Statement of President Barack Obama on Rescinding the Mexico City Policy, January 23, 2009.



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