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Columbia Receives $2 Million to Study Impact of the Expanded Mexico City Policy on Women’s Health

The Heilbrunn Department of Population and Family Health at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health announced the launch of a study to measure the impact of the expanded Mexico City Policy on the health and wellbeing of women and health providers. Researchers and advocates will share strategies and methods to assess the current policy’s impact and its effect on policy and practice relating to sexual and reproductive health services in the future.

[Photo: Ms. Terry McGovern]

Recently, the Mexico City Policy, sometimes referred to as the Global Gag Rule (GGR), has been reinstated and vastly broadened to apply to global health assistance furnished by all departments or agencies.

Organizations that refuse to adhere to the policy will not be able to receive U.S. government funding for health activities.  Organizations that do agree will keep their funding, but they will be prohibited from referring women to any kind of services that may include abortion. They may also cut back on family planning and other services, as they fear endangering needed funding.  As a result, the impact of the expanded Mexico City Policy is expected to be significant; it could undercut access to abortion, contraception, gender-based violence counseling, and HIV testing and treatment, among other life-saving services. Its effects will likely be further exacerbated by cuts to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the United Nations Population Fund, which provides contraceptives. There are estimates that more than half a billion dollars in aid are at risk in Kenya alone.

Currently, the policy affects women’s health in more than 60 countries in the developing world, and $8.8 billion in foreign aid — an increase from $600 million when the policy was implemented during the George W. Bush administration.

The study will focus on the countries of Kenya and Nepal to start and eventually expand to other countries. Laws in both Kenya and Nepal have permitted abortion to be openly provided to preserve the life and health of a woman, and each country receives substantial U.S. government funding.

“It is essential to research the impact of these new restrictions.  We will do so in partnership with colleagues in Kenya and Nepal,” said Ms. Terry McGovern, chair of the Heilbrunn Department of Population and Family Health at the Mailman School. Professor McGovern co-leads the research team alongside Ms. Lynn Freedman, professor, and Ms. Latanya Mapp Frett, adjunct professor in the department. Ms. McGovern is an expert in the intersection between health and the law, with a particular focus on sexual and reproductive health services and human rights.  Ms. Freedman directs the Heilbrunn department’s Averting Maternal Death and Disability (AMDD) program, which works with local and regional partners to reduce maternal and newborn mortality and foster strong, accountable health systems.  She has published widely on issues of maternal mortality and on health and human rights.  Ms. Mapp Frett is the executive director of Planned Parenthood Global and a vice president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America; she has spent her professional career advocating for the human rights of women.

Broadening the Partnership
The Heilbrunn department will assemble key international research and advocacy partners working in the area of sexual and reproductive health services to build on the evidence-based research, ensure the policy relevance of the work, leverage potential synergies, and to avoid duplication.

Local, country-based research and policy groups that are already conducting studies on sexual and reproductive health services and the implication of current policies will contribute to the research. Throughout the process, the Heilbrunn team will enhance the local partners’ capacity to carry out future data collection, analysis, and dissemination. With a strong network of partners in Kenya and Nepal, and a robust group of reproductive health organizations present, the data can be leveraged for maximum impact.

The research team members have significant expertise in collaborative training on content, research methodology, and findings dissemination and will provide in-country training and ongoing technical assistance to the local partner organizations.

“Our ongoing relationships with other organizations seeking to determine the impact of the expanded policy make us well positioned to support a partnership that will result in synergy and renewed strength for advocacy in sexual and reproductive health services,” noted Ms. McGovern.

The project is supported by $1 million grants from both the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, supporting their commitment to ensuring that women and young people have access to the quality reproductive health information and services they want and need throughout their lives to make decisions that are right for them.