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Policy & Politics
Obama Lifts "Mexico City" Policy, Could Affect HIV/AIDS Efforts

January 26, 2009

President Obama on Friday issued an executive order repealing the "Mexico City" Policy, which banned U.S. funding for international health groups that use their own funds to perform abortions, lobby their governments in favor of abortion rights or provide counseling about terminating pregnancies, the Washington Post reports. Obama also said that he would work with Congress to restore funding to the United Nations Population Fund to prevent HIV/AIDS, reduce poverty, and improve health care access for women and children in 154 countries. The Post reports that Obama's decision was praised by women's health advocates, family planning groups and others for allowing USAID to fund programs that offer HIV prevention and care, birth control and medical services (Stein/Shear, Washington Post, 1/24).

According to Reuters, critics of the "Mexico City" Policy say that the restrictions have resulted in large reductions in funding for organizations worldwide that provide family planning services and basic health care. For example, the Center for Reproductive Rights reports that in Ethiopia and Lesotho, some nongovernmental organizations are not able to offer comprehensive and integrated health services to people living with HIV/AIDS (Mason/Charles, Reuters, 1/23).

In a related San Francisco Chronicle opinion piece, Shalini Nataraj of the Global Fund for Women writes of one operation in Ghana that lost funding because it refused to adhere to the "Mexico City" Policy, resulting in an estimated 600,000 people losing access to HIV/AIDS prevention education, counseling and family planning services.

The effects of the policy have been "compounded" by a requirement in the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief that organizations receiving funding must oppose commercial sex work, Nataraj writes, adding that the "reasoning behind this pledge is that by denying services or outreach to those who work as" commercial sex workers, such work "will be abolished and HIV/AIDS will be reduced." She writes that the "reality is otherwise, because women enter sex work for a variety of deeply entrenched sociocultural and economic reasons that must be addressed before [commercial sex work] can be reduced. This means that organizations that work with sex workers are threatened with a loss of funding for serving those most in need of information and protection from HIV/AIDS" (Nataraj, San Francisco Chronicle, 1/26).

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