23 January 2009 — Vol. 11/No. 03
If you’re old enough, you may remember the 1958 novel called
The Ugly American. Or perhaps you saw the 1963 movie by the
same name, starring Marlon Brando. The "uglies" in the
novel were arrogant and ignorant American aid workers who ran
roughshod over local values and institutions. The phrase remains in
current usage, referring to almost any loud, boorish American
traveling abroad and insisting on having his own way.
I read the book as a boy. It was one of the reasons why, as an
anthropologist at Stanford University, I later made a point of
scrupulously observing local customs and respecting local laws. Most
Americans quite naturally do the same when traveling abroad.
One would think that a self-proclaimed "citizen of the
world" would agree, but President Obama seems determined to
unleash a whole phalanx of Ugly Americans on the world. I say this
because he intends to fund, using your tax dollars and mine,
international organizations that willfully violate the laws of most
countries around the globe, not to mention the values of all the
world’s major religions, by violating the sanctity of Life.
I am talking about his Executive Order, expected in the next few
days, overturning the Mexico City Policy.
The Mexico City Policy was first adopted by President Ronald
Reagan in 1984 at a population conference in Mexico City. It was
intended to get the U.S. out of the international abortion business.
Under the policy, international organizations that perform, promote,
or lobby for the legalization of abortion are ineligible for U.S.
population control/family planning funds from the U.S. Agency for
The idea behind the Mexico City Policy is that abortion is always
and everywhere a controversial act. Most Americans object to having
their tax dollars used to fund it. Most countries severely restrict
the act of abortion, if they do not ban it altogether. For
American-funded organizations to be pushing abortions overseas
reflects badly on our country and on us, and harms vulnerable women in
the developing world.
President Bill Clinton lifted the ban in January 1993 as one of
his first acts as president, but President George W. Bush reinstated
it in his first executive order on January 22, 2001, the 28th
anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Now Obama is poised to undo Bush’s
order and repeat Clinton’s mistake.
The primary beneficiaries of this change will be the pro-abortion
zealots of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF).
Once their coffers are fattened by a generous USAID grant, IPPF
employees will fan out over the world: They will promote abortion
where it is legal, lobby for its legalization where it is not, and
perform as many abortions as possible, most in defiance of local
One hundred and ten countries around the world ban all abortions,
or allow them under very restricted circumstances. The constitutions
of a dozen Latin American countries, for example, define life as
beginning at conception, and protect the unborn from that point
Respecting neither national sovereignty nor the popular will, the
IPPF and like-minded organizations are determined to change all that.
They denigrate the unborn as less than human. They seek to deny it
the protection of the state. They perform illegal abortions by the
tens of thousands. How’s that for cultural imperialism?
The abortion movement characterizes the Mexico City policy as the
"global gag rule." Why? Because under the policy, in order
to receive USAID funding, organizations have to promise not to violate
the pro-life laws of the countries they operate in by performing
illegal abortions. They also have to promise not to undermine the
democratic process by lobbying for the legalization of abortion.
For the abortion true believer, who is convinced he is helping
women by aborting their children (not to mention protecting the
environment and solving the overpopulation problem) such restrictions
are intolerable. They see abortion as a great good.
Of course, they know that most people don’t agree with them,
and so they don’t argue the point outright. Instead, they
resort to subterfuge. They claim, as the organization Engenderhealth
does, that "The Global Gag Rule has had terrible consequences for
the health and lives of poor women and their families, in ways that
have nothing to do with abortion. The Global Gag Rule has forced
clinics to cut back on all sorts of health services, such as family
planning, obstetric care, HIV testing, and malaria
This, of course, is so much horse manure. The organizations which
refuse to abide by the Mexico City policy are not interested in
"family planning, obstetric care, HIV testing, and malaria
treatment." Rather, their priority is the promotion and
performance of abortions. If this were not so they would simply
comply with the policy, eschew abortion, and receive funding.
The Mexico City Policy itself has not restricted foreign aid for
family planning. Instead, it has simply ensured that family planning
funds are not used for abortions. As Cardinal George
recently wrote to President Obama, "Once the clear line between
family planning and abortion is erased, the idea of using family
planning to reduce abortions becomes meaningless, and abortion tends
to replace contraception as the means for reducing family size."
On the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Obama released a statement
about wanting to "reduce the need for abortion." When he
overturns the Mexico City Policy, however, he will be increasing them
around the world.
And we will all be Ugly Americans.
Steven W. Mosher is the President of Population Research Institute.