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Letters to the 107th Congress

January 23, 2002

Dear Representative/Senator:

I am writing to express the support of the American Bar Association for the Global Democracy Promotion Act, HR 755, introduced by Congresswoman Nita Lowey. This bill would overturn the Executive Memorandum requiring non-governmental organizations to agree, as a condition of their receipt of U.S. Federal foreign assistance, to neither perform nor advocate for abortions as a method of family planning, even if using their own funds for that purpose (the Mexico City Policy).

The American Bar Association has adopted numerous positions in favor of free speech and independence for professional judgment. In August 2001, our House of Delegates adopted the following policy position:

RESOLVED, that the American Bar Association opposes any federal law, regulation, or policy that prohibits foreign nongovernmental organizations that receive United States government assistance from using non-United States government funds to provide health or medical services that are legal in the country receiving the United States assistance, including counseling and referral services, or to engage in advocacy or public education activities.

Originally issued in 1984, the Mexico City policy had a wide-ranging effect overseas before being overturned by the Administration in 1993. With the AIDS crisis having grown enormously in recent years, along with other issues related to maternal-child health, safe effective contraception and safe family planning programs have taken a larger role in the public health arena in many lesser developed countries. The re-imposition of these regulations has had a very deleterious effect on efforts to address these problems in affected countries.

While U.S. foreign assistance funds have not been used to provide abortion services since the Helms Amendment of 1973, the Mexico City Policy forbids use of an organization's own funds, whether earned or raised from other sources to advocate for access to abortions. Whether such services are legal within the community they serve and whether the organization seeks to improve the safety of legal abortions is immaterial under the policy. Furthermore, professionals working for these organizations are restricted in the provision of counseling and medically necessary referrals from mentioning legally available abortion at clinics not subject to these restrictions.

The Mexico City Policy would be deemed unconstitutional if imposed on similarly situated groups in the U.S. While this policy is often known as the "global gag rule", it is a selective gag, impinging on the rights of those who would seek abortion law reform but not those who would ban the procedure. It denies advocates overseas the ability to seek public policy changes to improve the safety and welfare of women seeking abortion services for any purpose, including to preserve the life of the mother. Yet opponents of abortion services are permitted to receive U.S. funds and to advocate unimpeded. Such content specific regulation by the U.S. Government would be illegal if imposed in the domestic context, and may violate the rights of U.S. citizens employed by organizations currently receiving such funds.

HR 755 would legislatively overturn the Mexico City Policy, guaranteeing that a private overseas organization would not lose U.S. funding simply for providing health care services that are legal in their country and in the U.S.; like their American counterpart organizations, their ability to participate in public policy discussions in their own country would be unimpeded.

In other contexts the U.S. encourages citizens of other countries to engage in public debate and to resolve their differences through the democratic political process. Self-determination relies on the free expression of beliefs and ideas; this principle is part of the bedrock of our own legal system. If we are to support democracies worldwide we must maintain our principles and encourage others to adopt them. This policy subverts our efforts in that area. We ask that you join the cosponsors of HR 755 in supporting the Global Democracy Promotion Act.

Sincerely,

Robert D. Evans
Director, Governmental Affairs Office

107th Congress Letters Home

AMERICAN BAR ASSOCIATION
Governmental Affairs Office
740 Fifteenth Street, NW
Washington, DC 20005
ph: 202-662-1760
fx: 202-662-1762

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