Speech in the debate The impact of the Mexico City Policy

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This weeks issue of the well-known British magazine The Economist contains an article on the impact of the Mexico City Policy, entitled Pregnant pause.
The article explains how the laudable efforts of the current American administration to step up the fight against HIV/AIDS worldwide is being undermined by the Mexico City Policy which the same administration reinstated in January 2001.

This policy, which opponents call the global gag rule, imposes restrictions on international family planning, by making US funding for foreign NGOs conditional on their acceptance of this policy.
In theory, this policy means that foreign NGOs are not allowed to perform abortions or lobby to make abortion legal if they want to keep receiving the generous US funds; in practice, the policy's restrictive implementation means that foreign NGOs are not allowed to have any connections with abortion whatsoever.
Since many, if not most, family-planning clinics worldwide are run by NGOs refusing to sign up to the Mexico City Policy, such as the IPPF or Marie Stopes International, and these NGOs have not been able to make up the shortfall of funds by other means, hundreds of thousands of women have lost the opportunity to be tested or treated for HIV/AIDS.
The Economist concludes that one policy undermines the other.

However, one does not even have to compare one policy with the other: The Mexico City Policy is contradictory within itself.
The aim of the Mexico City Policy is pro-life: it is meant to save the lives of unborn children as well as those of their mothers, by discouraging the use of abortion of as a method of family planning.
This aim is laudable: In no case should abortion be promoted as a method of family planning. But, unfortunately, the Mexico City Policy is having the opposite effect in practice: As clinics close and access to reproductive services becomes more difficult for lack of funding, less poor women in Europe and worldwide can afford contraception, leading to an increase in unwanted pregnancies, and consequently an increase in abortions. Since many of these abortions are unsafe, more women die as a consequence, too.
The result of the Mexico City Policy is, ironically, thus not pro-life, but anti-life.

Let me take the example of a European country, one of our member states we know well: Romania. Romania is among the least affluent countries in Europe, with a per capita GDP of about 1700 US$ and an annual health care spending of $71 per person. Romania suffers from a relatively high infant mortality rate, a high maternal mortality rate, and a weak health care system.
At our Committee meeting in Bucarest in May 2003, we were told that more than 10.000 women had died of illegal abortions during the Ceaucescu era. Even now, Romania has the second highest maternal mortality rate in Europe. When abortions were legalised in the country after the fall of the Ceaucescu regime, 1 million abortions were performed in the 1990s, the highest abortion rate in the world.
Currently, about 200.000 abortions are performed in Romania each year, most of them legally. NGOs are trying to re-orient Romanian women from abortion to contraception; but those NGOs which do not deal with abortion at all are not financially sustainable, and those who do (such as Marie Stopes International) receive no more funds from the USA. Unfortunately, because the approach in Romania is not integrated (there are weak or no links between abortion and contraceptive services), abortion remains the most accepted contraceptive method in Romania: traditional and cheap. Except in the cost of lives: as the NGO Population Action International has pointed out in its most recent report on the impact of the Mexico City Policy, called access denied, current abortion techniques in Romania are outdated and consequently less safe.
However, abortion is perceived by Romanian women as having a cleansing effect, whereas mistrust of hormonal methods of contraception is widespread. In addition, abortion costs less for women than contraception; and, although abortion is a relatively brief procedure, hospitals can bill the social insurance for an entire day of hospitalization
As a consequence of the Mexico City Policy, NGOs cannot integrate family planning with abortion services and cannot lobby for safer equipment, training and medical procedures for abortion. In other words, more women and unborn children die.

The Council of Europe should not just stand on the sidelines and watch as this drama is played out in our midst. I think it is our duty, and that of our parliaments and governments, to speak out against this misguided policy of the current American administration. We all agree that abortion should never be a method of family planning. But we should also all agree to call a spade a spade: The Mexico City Policy is not saving the lives of unborn children and their mothers, it is costing more lives.

For this reason, I propose that we should try to consolidate and increase our donor support for reproductive and sexual health programmes, and to prioritise the allocation of such funds to those NGOs which have lost funding as a result of the Mexico City Policy.
We should engage the United States of America, its Congress and its current Administration in an informed debate about the nefast impact of the Mexico City Policy worldwide, and encourage President Bush to rescind it.

Report: Impact of the “Mexico City Policy” on the free choice of contraception in Europe

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