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House Democrats Stage Hearing on the Mexico City Policy

Vol. 9 / No. 41

On October 31, 2007, Representative Tom Lantos (D-CA) held what NARAL president Nancy Keenan called “the first fair-minded House hearing on reproductive health in 12 years.” The hearing was an open meeting of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on the Mexico City Policy (MCP), or, in the spin-speak of pro-abortion politicians, the “global gag rule.” Given the fact the Democrat-controlled House and Senate have already passed the FY2008 appropriations bill completely gutting the Mexico City Policy, the hearing was little more than sloppy window-dressing. At least, that’s what it looked like from where I was sitting.

Rep. Lantos, Committee chairman, opened the proceedings with openly pro-choice rhetoric, decrying Reagan’s “mindless global gag rule” and insisting that it places restrictions on overseas health care workers if they spend “even a dime of their own money” on advocating abortion.

Representative Tom Lantos (D-CA)

Perhaps it would behoove Mr. Lantos to read the Mexico City Policy. MCP, largely pro-life as it is, still allows for abortion in cases of rape, incest, or life of the mother, not to mention the fact that NGOs are always free to spend their own money on abortion. They just can’t use American taxpayer dollars.

There were 4 “witnesses” at the hearing, carefully picked by House pro-choicers: Dr. Ejike Oji, Country Director of Ipas, Nigeria, Joana Nerquaye-Tetteh, former executive director of Planned Parenthood Association of Ghana, and Dr. Duff G. Gillespie, senior scholar at the Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health. The lone pro-lifer was, Dr. Jean Kagia, a gynecologist from Kenya. Fair-minded? Hardly.

The pro-choice witnesses formed a depressing chorus of abortion rhetoric and party-line sob stories. There was no hard case made against MCP, no solid testimony brought against it. Rather, I heard nothing but simple-minded repetition of tired myths and a wholesale abandonment of basic logic.

“US citizens who have an unwanted pregnancy have safe choices to make,” complained Ejike Oji. “Being pregnant in Nigeria is like being a soldier on the frontlines. . . many, many women in Nigeria do not have the opportunity to avoid unwanted pregnancy with the use of contraception, to carry out a safe pregnancy or to safely terminate a pregnancy they do not want. For some women in Nigeria, in carrying out their choice, they pay the ultimate price.” What Mr. Oji ignores is that MCP does nothing to restrict contraception, and permits abortion in any case where the woman would be required to “pay the ultimate choice.” Maybe it would behoove Mr. Oji to read the Policy as well.

Ronald Reagan first gave America the Mexico City Policy in 1984

Likewise, Joan Nerquaye-Tetteh insisted that she had “personally witnessed the destructive effects the global gag rule had” on reproductive health. “We refused the terms of the gag rule,” she said in her opening statement, “and the impact was immediate and damaging.” Come again? As long-time pro-life ally Chris Smith (R-NJ) said, “no other country donates more funds toward family planning than the United States.” If one NGO won’t provide reproductive health services under the terms of the MCP, the United States government can always find another one that will.

Dr. Gillespie offered similarly risible arguments, claiming that USAID has aggressively used the MCP to curtail free speech. The Mexico City Policy affects every recipient of USAID funds, he insisted, claiming that NGOs are forced to make a “Faustian pact” in order to keep their funding. Never mind that all money is fungible, and there’s no safeguard to keep federal funds donated to an NGO for purposes other than abortion to make their way into the abortion pot. Rep. Bob Inglis (R-SC) was kind enough to explain this concept to Dr. Gillespie.

Dr. Jean Kagia, the gynecologist from Kenya, spoke valiantly about the value of life and the repression of traditional African values, saying that “African women love babies,” and tried to dispel some of the mythology surrounding the “global gag rule.” But, even with the support of a phalanx of pro-life congressmen, her pleas fell on deaf ears. These congressmen, who outnumbered their pro-choice counterparts 2 to 1, included Jeff Fortenberry, Tom Tancredo, Marilyn Musgrave, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Don Manzullo, Dan Burton, Gus Bilirakis, Mike Pence, and of course, Chris Smith.

Also pertinent (but conspicuous only by its absence) was the testimony of USAID, the United States organization most responsible for dealing with the day-to-day consequences of the MCP. This was almost certainly due to the fact that USAID, as the organization most in-touch with real-world results of the MCP, has itself made clear to members of Congress that the MCP has not adversely affected worldwide family planning efforts. As Rep. Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) pointed out, their absence was indeed a “glaring omission.”

None of the strong questions put forward by pro-life opposition appeared to make any headway. The arguments from the witness stand grew more tired and more repetitive, as the “fair-minded” witnesses repeated the party mantra: MCP violates free speech; it hampers reproductive health; it endangers the lives of third-world women. When Chris Smith played ultrasound video of a 10-week-old unborn child and asked the question: “Do you believe the 10-week-old child is a person?,” Dr. Gillespie was the only one who replied. “It is not germane to this particular discussion,” he said, drawing snickers of disbelief from a room packed with liberal pro-choicers.

In the words of Jean Kagia, “the promotion of and effort to legalise abortion in Africa is a foreign agenda and a form of recolonisation.” This sentiment was backed by Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), who warned earnestly against America’s “cultural imperialism.” Disturbingly, pro-lifers seem to be the only ones bothered by this imperialism. Nerquaye-Tetteh spoke blithely of Africa’s unsustainable population, intimating that the abortion debate pertains not only to women’s choice, but to the fact that Africans are having “too many children.” Ejike Oji called his own country’s abortion laws “restrictive and antiquated,” urging U.S-led change. Gillespie called openly for increased funding for family planning, including abortion, touting the continued effectiveness of USAID’s family planning program.

If this is what our opponents call a “fair-minded” hearing, I shudder to think of what lies in store for our country under our current congressional leadership.

PRI would like to thank all of the Representatives that rose to the occasion to appear at the hearing and take a stand for life. Their dedication and respect for the pro-life cause will not be forgotten. May God continue to bless them in their efforts.

Colin Mason is the Director for Media Production at PRI.

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