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Abortion and The Mexico City Policy

3 Min Read
Abortion and The Mexico City Policy

Pro-choice and anti-abortion debates have been fueling societal and political divides for decades, if not centuries. In the United States alone, many people are worried that a conservative Supreme Court might undo the protections offered by the landmark case Roe v. Wade. But anti-abortion legislation has more than just a cultural effect, as it passes boarders and trickles into foreign affairs. One such policy is known as The Mexico City Policy, or the “Global Gag Rule,” as its critics call it.

Below I have summarized the key points and facts brought by researchers at the Population Institution to give you a fast and easy overview. To read their full document, click here.

What Is It?

The Mexico City Policy, which was established at the 1984 International Conference on Population during Ronald Reagan's presidency, states that any foreign NGO offering abortion assistance, including education, referrals, or procedures, is to have their funding slashed from the U.S. government.

NGOs that utilize separate funds for these services are not exempt from this rule. In other words, any affiliation with abortion services or resources compromises funding. The only exceptions for abortion care is for women who have been subjected to incest or rape, or for those struggling with life-altering pregnancy complications.

It has been reinstated for 20 of the last 35 years (1). During the Trump/Pence term, its terms were harsher than ever before.

Why Is It Controversial?

Research has shown time and time again that restricting access to abortion services, education, referrals and more does not decrease abortion rates (1). In fact, rates have actually been shown to increase in countries where the policy is strictly upheld (2).

Furthermore, it negatively affects overall healthcare access for millions of people (1). For example, the policy threatens availability to services such as HIV testing or treatment, as over half of the funding for global HIV and AIDS services come from the U.S. (1). The people most susceptible to these budget cuts are low-income, marginalized groups who already have limited access to basic human needs.

Unsafe Abortions

Abortion restrictions also puts women’s health in danger. In developing countries alone, almost 7 million women end up in the hospital from unsafe abortions each year (1).

There are plenty of complications, particularly in the case of at-home “procedures” that utilize the haphazard consumption of drugs and alcohol, or with ad-hoc and unsafe items used as tools.

Abortion and the Mexico City policy

The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that almost every death or life-altering complication that comes from abortion restriction is preventable — all it would take is access to things like contraception, as well as access to safe and legal abortion care.

This funding is doubly important given that many low-income people don’t have the ability to even access contraception when they struggle with daily tasks such as putting food on the table. These people ultimately are far less able to prevent an unwanted pregnancy than those who have more privilege. It makes me wonder, is risk-free, protected sex only for those who have the money and access to gain it? Should we be dictating what marginalized groups have the medical rights to as a further repercussion?

Trump/Pence Spotlight

Within three days of taking office in 2017, President Donald Trump put new regulations on the policy, extending it to all global health assistance services that receive U.S. funding. The policy expansion was also legally named the “Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance” policy (1).

Donald Trump with signed executive order

This uncompromising regulation now affects roughly 15 times more funds than it did prior. Furthermore, the policy may last longer than just one presidency, as multi-year funding programs can surpass a presidential term (1).

Is Being Anti-Abortion Really "Pro-Life"?

While a lot of anti-abortion activists frame themselves as being “pro-life,” the reality is far grimmer than that. Researchers have found more than 22,000 women die from unsafe abortions each year, and most of these are preventable (3). Other groups, such as people seeking treatment for HIV, AIDS, or malaria, are also at high risk for complications due to restrictions on funding.

In other words, people who call themselves “pro-life,” aren’t simply choosing a life, but rather which life. At the end of the day, it’s worth holding space for the awareness and recognition for both the lives that are lost and the health complications that can transpire from restricted access.


  1. Click here
  2. Brooks, Nina, Eran Bendavid, and Grant Miller. "USA aid policy and induced abortion in sub-Saharan Africa: an analysis of the Mexico City policy." The Lancet Global Health 7.8 (2019): e1046-e1053.
  3. Unsafe Abortion: A Forgotten Emergency.” Doctors Without Borders - USA, 


  1. Vice
  2. Unknown
  3. Cover Photo Art: @KirkTruman