Zombie Policy on International Family Planning Rises Again

January 23, 2017

Update 1/31/2017: It turns out the Trump version of the Mexico City Policy is a zombie policy on steroids. The now-released text of the Executive Order will cover all global health funding, not just US family planning funding. This includes PEPFAR, which had been exempted under the George W. Bush administration. (See WhiteHouse.govSlate, and UN Dispatch.)

On his first day in the office, President Trump signed an executive order reinstating a 30-year-old political hot potato, the “Mexico City Policy."

Like many, I will point out that reinstating the global gag rule does not reduce abortion. On the contrary, there is evidence from sub-Saharan Africa that the rule reduced women’s access to contraception between 1994 and 2008, causing more unwanted pregnancies and more abortion. One affected organization, Marie Stopes International, estimates that the loss of US Government funding through reinstatement of the rule will result in 6.5 million unintended pregnancies and 2.2 million abortions, and 21,700 maternal deaths, all related to the scale down of their services in response to the anticipated cuts in US government support.

Views on abortion are strongly held and that’s a fact of life in the United States. But if you want to reduce abortion, this is the wrong way to go. Not only is it empirically counterproductive on its intended policy goal, the gag rule demonstrably causes harm.

Voluntary family planning is one of the great advances of the past century. Anyone with less than 10 children (widely thought to be the limit of natural fertility) will immediately intuit its importance in their own and everyone else’s lives.

And there is what has been empirically documented over decades: enabling women to make informed decisions about whether and when to have children reduces unintended pregnancies, abortion, and maternal and newborn deaths (see here). Family planning also pushes forward women’s economic empowerment (see here), an area where some incoming members of the new Administration have expressed interest.

Family planning is key to global health and development. More than 220 million women who want family planning still don’t have access to contraceptives, information or services in low-income countries.

So if you want to reduce abortion around the world, here’s a better idea: help women in low-income countries gain access to voluntary, high-quality family planning. 



CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.