WASHINGTON—This spring the U.S. Senate passed, by a margin of 51-49, one of the congressional session's most contested articles of legislation: the Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act (HR 1757). The vote will send President Clinton a bill authorizing the payment of nearly $1 billion to the United Nations, an itemized mandate for U.N. reform, the reorganization of several government departments, and foreign policy directives regarding Iraq and Israel.

The legislation also includes conditions for spending on foreign assistance for population programs and family planning. Under the bill, U.S. dollars could not be distributed to organizations that perform abortions as a means of family planning, that implement coercive programs of family planning, or that work actively to undermine existing laws on abortion. Known as the “Mexico City Policy,” these provisions echo the agreements of the U.N. conferences on population in Mexico City and Cairo, and reflect part of the social policy that directed Reagan-era foreign aid.

The bill also reintroduces a practice Clinton had hoped to put to rest five years ago, when he rescinded a Reagan Administration policy in his first days of office. The president instructed the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Jan. 22, 1993, that they were no longer to implement the “unwarranted” and “excessively broad” conditions that restricted U.S. funding not only of abortion, but of “abortion-related activities.” The policy was abandoned, in the words of the president, because it adversely affected the provision of family planning services, and therefore efforts to stabilize world population. The White House has indicated that the president intends to veto HR 1757.

The Administration characterizes the measure as an “anti-family planning” and “anti-abortion” document. When drafted and implemented in the Reagan era, however, the Mexico City Policy was a sophisticated, many-faceted approach to population policy. Family planning formed only one component of a larger program, which sought economic development and social and human progress as a means to approach contemporary population dynamics.

According to the original Mexico City Policy, population growth becomes a crisis for two reasons: “counterproductive economic policies in poor and struggling nations, and a pessimism among the more advanced.” Such pessimism refuses to believe unstable economic conditions can be improved, and denies what demographic science has confirmed often: that “sound economic policies … create the rise in living standards historically associated with decline in fertility rates.” Recognizing this, the original policy concluded that “population control programs alone cannot substitute for the economic reforms that put a society on the road toward growth and, as an after-effect, toward a slower population increase as well.”

Building upon this principle, the original policy declared that the “primary objective [of U.S. foreign aid] will be to encourage developing countries to adopt sound economic policies and, where appropriate, population policies consistent with respect for human dignity and family values.” The criteria for acceptable programs of population assistance were based on the U.N. Declaration of the Rights of the Child (1959), on universal human rights, and the obligation to respect religious and cultural beliefs of societies and individuals. At no point did the policy reject the idea of “family planning.”

The Mexico City approach to foreign aid defined population policies as an “ingredient of a comprehensive program that focuses on the root causes of development failures.” To reflect its priorities, the policy stated that population assistance was to amount to about 10% of total development assistance. When Clinton rejected this approach, he did so based on family planning and access to abortion. His action of January 1993, more than the Mexico City Policy itself, made family planning and abortion an issue.

Clinton's executive order initiated a foreign aid philosophy that subordinates economic development to family planning. USAID spending priorities now clearly reflect this philosophy. Funding figures for 1997, for example, indicate a bias in favor of population spending, with such allocations reaching 31% in Indonesia, 36% in the Philippines, 60% in Tanzania, and 73% in Mexico.

Imbalances between population and economic development spending are not as significant as the imbalance between health and population categories, since economic development only occasionally receives zero spending. Presently, many countries do not receive money dedicated specifically to health activities. In their assistance profiles, health activities are subsumed as a category of population assistance. These countries include Cambodia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Morocco, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Uganda, and Zimbabwe.

The current approach to foreign aid features the types of family planning abuses the Mexico City Policy attempted to prevent. The same act that ended the Mexico City Policy renewed U.S. funding of the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) and the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF). Both of these organizations are and have been directly involved in the Chinese National Family Planning Program, and its practices of coerced abortion, sterilization, and contraception. Even if U.S. dollars do not directly pay for these practices, they free up other funds for that use.

In Mexico, which in 1997 received $12.9 million in U.S. population assistance, women are routinely fitted with intrauterine devices (IUDs) during delivery without their prior consent, and are refused assistance in removing the devices afterwards. In Peru, thousands of women have been sterilized in the past two years in response to government-established sterilization quotas. Many of these women were sterilized against their will, or under economic or social pressure.

The USAID logo appears on a billboard advocating the family planning program a few miles from where one Peruvian woman died of a botched sterilization. USAID funds go to at least one organization that has trained Peruvian doctors in sterilization techniques.

This is the situation the “new” Mexico City Policy attempts to reverse. HR 1757 and what is called its Mexico City component are primarily an attempt to regain ground not in the area of family planning, but in human rights and U.S. image and integrity abroad.

The measure forbids making U.S. population assistance funds available to organizations that perform abortions as a means of family planning in any foreign countries. This resolution has been reiterated often at U.N. summits and accords, and would reinforce commitment to a policy the international community has repeatedly pledged to support.

Second, the bill prohibits the use of U.S. funds to organizations that “violate the laws of any foreign country concerning the circumstances under which abortion is permitted, regulated, or prohibited, or engage in any activity or effort to alter the laws or governmental policies of any foreign country concerning the circumstances under which abortion is permitted, regulated, or prohibited.” From an international relations perspective, this is no less a restriction than the prohibition on foreign government contributions to influence national political campaigns.

Third, the bill calls for a halt on funding the UNFPA if it continues its involvement in the Chinese Family Planning program.

The proposed Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act, with its Mexico City component, is an attempt to ensure that U.S. commitment to population assistance will not further human rights abuses documented as occurring within family planning and reproductive health programs abroad. It is also an attempt to bring the foreign assistance program back to its original priorities: the provision of basic health services, economic development, and the promotion of goodwill between the United States and the international community.

Kateryna Fedoryka is population programs coordinator for the Population Research Institute in Falls Church, Virginia.