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News & Analysis > All
News & analysis from Proletarian Internationalist Notes—news, reviews and analysis from a global perspective
Mexico City Policy: U.S. involvement in global family planning holding back abortion rights advancement
January 26, 2017
As expected, Trump flipped the switch on the so-called Mexico City policy, or “global gag rule,” withholding U.S. government funding from NGO abortion providers and educators outside the United $tates, including those that use separate accounts (non-USAID money) for abortion services or information. Trump’s reinstatement of the policy was also an expansion that covered all federal agency sources and all health organizations, not just family planning organizations.(1) Even organizations receiving any U.$. global health assistance, but not family planning funds, could be affected.
There is another sense in which one shouldn’t be too critical about those acting like this is new. Even after the Women’s Marches and the 44th Roe v. Wade anniversary, there are still u.$. college students and young adults who, for example, wouldn’t be able to say more than one sentence about what Roe v. Wade is, if that. There is now a weird situation in which even some religious older males know more about Roe v. Wade than some nonreligious younger females who have graduated from college. With AmeriKKKans, some knowledge could be better than nothing – or not, if Amerikans are only “feminist” enough to make themselves useful for bombing Muslim countries.(2)
Some polls in recent years show a sizable number of amerikans are uncertain about whether Roe v. Wade should be overturned or don’t know what it is.(3) Somehow, a country with a population increasingly ignorant about their own important abortion laws and court decisions, and that (apart from certain elections) increasingly seems to treat abortion rights as a moot issue because of Plan B and other things, is supposed to be a leader on global wimmin’s issues as some opponents of the Mexico City Policy have suggested it is or should be. In fact, the amerikans should not be leading, for various reasons. Getting more amerikans to support abortion rights, availability and information (even just to continue funding health organizations not receiving u.$. family planning money but required by local laws to provide or discuss abortion) won’t change that. Arguably, feminism in the u.$. should focus less on trying to get more amerikans to be “pro-choice,” which in many cases involves trying to get people to be more atheist, modern or secular in general. Feminism should be more involved in opposing wars against countries more religious than the united $nakes, and opposing u.$. influence in other countries.
Alternatively, some amerikans may not know or care much about Roe v. Wade, despite Trump’s looming Supreme Court justice pick, because a large majority of amerikans may already oppose overturning the decision. Some of the increase in Gallup’s “no opinion” percentage probably includes people who previously supported overturning the decision, who are now no longer as motivated or committed. When the Roe v. Wade decision was described as establishing “a woman’s constitutional right to abortion, at least in the first three months of pregnancy” and Pew survey respondents were prompted to choose one of two answers, 69% on November 30-December 5, 2016, said they wouldn’t like to see the Supreme Court overturn the 1973 decision.(4)
There is another way in which discussion of the Mexico City Policy could be of some benefit. In practice, most “feminism” in the u.$. is focused on the individual and what ey thinks or does, rather than on structural or policy change. It could be the equivalent of saying capitalists and workers should be better capitalists, workers and responsible citizens, individually, in a country where almost everyone is an exploiter of Third World workers. So, talking about policies and laws may be useful for showing some contrast with approaches centering on the individual.
Having said all of that, some discussion of the Mexico City Policy leaves much to be desired. There are various ways in which u.$. hegemony is holding back progress. When u.$. money (through the channels covered by the Mexico City Policy, and other channels) could be perceived as being involved in abortion even only in the most indirect way, abortion rights can come to be associated with neo-colonialism in the case of most of the Third World, semi-colonialism in the case of Chican@s and New Afrikans, and various types of colonialism in the case of First Nations inside/enclaved within the united $tates.
In “Israel” and the rest of Palestine, Palestinians obviously face both colonialism and an ethnic cleansing issue given the pressures coming from opponents of independent Palestinian statehood and “Greater Israel” proponents with various rhetoric. Whether fertility (births) is less of an important issue than imprisonment or unemployment for example or not, I$rael offers free abortions to many Palestinian wimmin. Most abortions done outside the Green Line are prohibited under Palestinian law or are self-induced at-home abortions, but the I$raeli subsidies and the amerikan offers (which could in various ways be intertwined in “military” aid to Israel) and potential offers to subsidize family planning methods, directly, indirectly or only apparently, don’t help to clarify abortion issues for Palestinians. That is in the context of the amerikan-Palestinian struggle involving the I$raeli entity and indirect amerikan subsidization of settlements through military aid approved by Obama before leaving office. Nations of course have a right to choose Islamic law, which may prohibit most abortions anyway, but right now Palestinian wimmin suffering from risky abortions and inadequate care certainly have the u.$. entity to thank for stifling Palestine’s economic development, for contributing to conflict in the region and perpetuating the status quo, for being complicit in and benefiting from colonial oppression of the Palestinian nation, for contributing to health risks and marriage difficulties, and for shaping their choices including reproductive choices. (Of course, those supporting the Joseph Goebbels line alleging Jewish domination of amerikans may disagree.)
When oppressed nations lack self-determination and their own institutions and budgets, it is harder to disprove concerns about population control and imperialism. Unfortunately, some opponents of the Mexico City Policy make things worse by openly suggesting abortion rights framed in terms of “choice” are a way for poor people to achieve economic development or at least escape poverty as individuals. The facts of u.$. dominance and global inequality are too obvious for the former to have much credibility. Whatever deficiencies in available abortion methods there may be, there are much larger impediments to economic development. While recasting long-standing u.$. family planning assistance as feminist policy and empowerment, some still openly admit large family size as a concern – not just excess fertility from unintended/unwanted pregnancy, not just wimmin’s health and status. Oddly, the text of the original Mexico City Policy – reflecting how u.$. family planning assistance had been connected to u.$. interests in population planning (not just to wimmin’s rights or health/aid in general as some may naively assume) – agrees with the population concerns of some Mexico City Policy opponents while perhaps in one paragraph showing more understanding of population and development questions than them.(5) Reagan was of course suggesting the so-called free market was more important for development than the family planning programs that would be impacted by the policy being introduced, but it is true there needs to be more attention to questions about economic arrangements.
Within the u.$., many Chican@s and New Afrikans expect Uncle $am or white master to be responsible for their health care and family planning in general. The reparations question is a source of confusion in both u.$.-domestic and global contexts. Obviously, the united $tates does owe the Third World much in terms of money – and enormous international exploitation by the united $tates affects development more than any other one thing – and, all international transfers and debts considered, Chican@s and New Afrikans (who are economically privileged relative to oppressed nations outside u.$. borders) are owed at least land. However, amerikan hegemony is making it hard for some to imagine family planning without u.$. aid.
Occupying powers do have some responsibility for public health and providing services, but occupation needs to go. One less-discussed thing making the Palestine one-state solution unrealistic is that Israeli annexation could come with increased abortion legality that many Palestinians oppose.
Too much discussion of the Mexico City Policy ignores issues of colonialism, national oppression, international exploitation, and hegemony. If Trump’s decision causes problems, it is to a significant extent because of u.$. hegemony, which will end if the world is successful in its struggles. There are additional reasons to look at nationality more closely. One is that Chican@s and Latin@s, both female and male (unless the female component of “Hispanic” approval is much lower), approve of certain u.$. military operations, such as drone strikes, less than u.$. females in general do and also disapprove of u.$. drone strikes more than u.$. females disapprove.(6) Same for “Hispanics” versus Democrats, “Hispanics” versus liberal Democrats, and “Hispanics” versus the 18-29 and 30-49 age groups. Criticism of the Mexico City Policy that focus on the Democratic/Republican aspect of things, or treat the world as if it were one country with Trump as its president attacking universal sisterhood, may along with other things contribute to undermining the anti-war struggle. In different ways, an emphasis on uniting non-whites in the u.$. with u.$. white females can lead to war. We have seen how “feminist” leaders last weekend paid lip service to non-white females and found it appropriate to say some words against police brutality, profiling, and militarization of the police, without opposing war – an egregious omission given the many different other topics raised. The obvious implication is uniting behind Democratic war leaders, and dealing with Trump by giving Trump war support in exchange for some concessions on domestic issues. The acceptance of u.$. domination implied in some criticism of Trump administration policies must be challenged.
In regard to unequal impact, it would be correct to say the Mexico City Policy may hurt non-amerikans while affecting u.$. females, families, and communities, little. The policy may contribute to global inequality and benefit amerikans economically by shrinking the budgets of at least some non-u.$. health organizations in the short term. Another differential impact involves sex difference in a way that isn’t usually discussed. U.$. aid has subsidized legal abortions overseas, but not so much vasectomies with pre-vasectomy sperm banking and long-term sperm storage. Switching the Mexico City Policy on and off causes people to fixate on abortion in a way that may put the burden of surgery on females. (Trump expanded the Mexico City Policy to cover even general hospitals merely mentioning abortion and so the policy is attracting more attention, but most amerikans never cared that much about health care needs of non-amerikans in general.) Both males and females claiming to be feminist should ask themselves why they don’t also support, or never talk about, availability of cheap or subsidized vasectomy and sperm banking. Why is it that supposed feminists seem to favor forcing females to go to a clinic to have a pump or curette stuck inside them, when voluntary long-term male birth control can help solve the underlying problem? U.$. involvement in promoting vasectomy might be viewed with suspicion, but U.$. involvement in family planning and population policies is already generally distrusted so that excuse becomes unavailable. It is hard for anyone today to openly support involuntary sterilization (mentioned in Trump’s memo and involving a history of poor non-white females being sterilized disproportionately), but maybe some people are in agreement with Trump about white male virility more than they think.
Incidentally: Hardcore Catholics are among those who are opposed to both abortion and artificial contraception including male birth control. Hopefully, Trump’s reinstatement and expansion of the Mexico City Policy doesn’t mean the Vatican will compromise its positions on Palestinian statehood, migrants, and refugees. ◊
1. “Presidential Memorandum regarding the Mexico City Policy,” 2017 January 23. https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/01/23/presidential-memorandum-regarding-mexico-city-policy
2. See: “Women’s March lacked strong anti-war message,” 2017 January. https://github.com/pinotes/pinotes.github.io/blob/master/_posts/2017-01-26-news-Womens-March-antiwar.md
3. “Majority of Americans still support Roe v. Wade decision,” 2013 January 22. http://www.gallup.com/poll/160058/majority-americans-support-roe-wade-decision.aspx “This year, with a record-high 18% unsure, the percentage wanting it overturned fell below 30% for only the third time since 1989.” “Gallup trends indicate that the increase in public uncertainty about overturning Roe v. Wade is largely the result of a growing percentage of young adults aged 18 to 29 expressing no opinion.”
“Roe v. Wade at 40: Most oppose overturning abortion decision,” 2013 January 16. http://www.pewforum.org/2013/01/16/roe-v-wade-at-40/ “Decades after the Supreme Court rendered its decision, on Jan. 22, 1973, most Americans (62%) know that Roe v. Wade dealt with abortion rather than school desegregation or some other issue. But the rest either guess incorrectly (17%) or do not know what the case was about (20%). And there are substantial age differences in awareness: Among those ages 50 to 64, 74% know that Roe v. Wade dealt with abortion, the highest percentage of any age group. Among those younger than 30, just 44% know this.”
4. “About seven-in-ten Americans oppose overturning Roe v. Wade,” 2017 January 3. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/01/03/about-seven-in-ten-americans-oppose-overturning-roe-v-wade/
5. https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CREC-1997-02-24/html/CREC-1997-02-24-pt1-PgS1433-3.htm “First and most important, population growth is, of itself, a neutral phenomenon. It is not necessarily good or ill. It becomes an asset or a problem only in conjunction with other factors, such as economic policy, social constraints, need for manpower, and so forth. The relationship between population growth and economic development is not necessarily a negative one. More people do not necessarily mean less growth. Indeed, in the economic history of many nations, population growth has been an essential element in economic progress.”
6. “Public continues to back U.S. drone attacks,” 2015 May 28. http://www.people-press.org/2015/05/28/public-continues-to-back-u-s-drone-attacks/