The State Department announced Monday that it will broaden the definition of the "Mexico City" policy that bans U.S. aid from supporting organizations that perform or endorse abortions.
The "Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance Initiative" broadens the policy that previously covered only family planning funds to now cover all foreign health assistance provided by government agencies, including the State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development, the Office of the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator and the Department of Defense.
It provides exemptions for abortions conducted in cases of rape, incest or threat to a pregnant woman's life or health, and applies to $8.8 billion in foreign aid, according to the Christian Broadcasting Network, which first reported the change. It applies to funding for a variety of health programs, including those that provide treatment and testing for HIV/AIDS, malaria and reproductive healthcare.
The Mexico City policy has gone back and forth depending on who is in office. It was continued by former President George H.W. Bush, rescinded by former President Bill Clinton in 1993, reinstated by former President George W. Bush in 2001, and rescinded by former President Barack Obama in 2009. In January, President Trump signed an executive order to allow government agencies to consider how to reinstate the policy to "global health assistance furnished by all departments or agencies."
Critics say the change will force groups that offer abortion as part of family planning services and reproductive health to choose between funding and ending their services, and they point to unsafe abortions around the world that drive maternal deaths in low-income countries.
"This draconian policy has been devastating for the millions of women in developing nations who rely upon NGOs for essential healthcare services," Vicki Saporta, president and CEO of the National Abortion Federation, said in a statement. "In many countries, NGOs are the only healthcare providers in rural areas. Since many clinics offer comprehensive healthcare services in addition to family planning, the loss of funding ... has meant that children have not been immunized, couples have not been able to receive HIV testing and treatment, and families have not been able to access malaria services."
The move was applauded by groups that oppose abortion.
"For too long, abortion advocates have profited from taxpayer-funded programs masquerading as providing full-service medical care," Catherine Foster, president and CEO of Americans United for Life, said in a statement. "The Trump administration's expansion of the Mexico City policy means that our taxpayer dollars will be used to promote good health and life rather than abortion."
Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said the expansion represented a modernization of the rules.
"This executive order does not cut a single penny from U.S. aid, rather it simply ensures our hard-earned tax dollars are used by other healthcare entities that act consistently to save lives, rather than promoting and performing abortion," she said. "Abortion is not healthcare."