Fighting for a Healthy CHANGE
Shortly after his inauguration, President Trump reinstated The Mexico City Policy on January 23, 2017, which blocks a non-governmental organization from receiving US federal family planning assistance funding unless the organizations are able to certify they will not “perform or actively promote abortion as a method of family planning.”
First enacted during the Ronald Reagan Administration, the policy has been rescinded and reinstated by subsequent administrations along party lines. But where other administrations simply reversed the predecessor’s policy, the new administration has expanded the policy to apply to not only NGOs, but any global health organization that receives US funding.
Family planning assistance accounts for $600 million of the more than $8 billion earmarked for bilateral global health assistance. (US law already bans the use of taxpayer dollars to support abortion services.) Supporters of the policy argue that it will help stop abortions, but research has not shown that to be the case. Access to contraception and family planning leads to lower abortion rates and some studies have shown that the policy can actually increase the number of abortions.
The seismic shift in public health policy sent NGOs and health organizations alike scrambling to understand the enhanced policy and make a choice: accept US family planning funds but be restricted in the information shared with clients, or secure alternative sources of funding.
The Center for Health and Gender Equity tapped Arent Fox to help CHANGE and its allies in the global health community prepare for and respond to the reinstatement of the policy. The initial scope of the work involved researching and analyzing the statutory restrictions imposed on NGOs when the policy is in place. CHANGE then asked for additional assistance to understand the parameters of the recently expanded policy and its impact on CHANGE and partner NGOs and to develop response strategies.
To date, Arent Fox has revised its original memo to reflect the expanded policy; researched and summarized the numerous global health program appropriations that will be impacted by the expanded policy; developed a template letter for NGOs to request exemptions from the policy; and provided support to a coalition of NGOs—led by CHANGE—that are developing legal strategies to respond to the expanded policy. In addition, Arent Fox has hosted women from affected countries and convened a conference with CHANGE to further discuss strategies to combat the expanded rule. The team includes Arent Fox Partner Jon Bouker and Associates Emily Leongini, Cynthia Weiss, and Alexandra Romero.