Sneha Barot, who works at the reproductive-health research and policy center The Guttmacher Institute, said that the restriction interferes with doctor-patient relationships, because preventing caregivers from informing patients about reproductive choices can ultimately expose women to unsafe abortions. Barot summarized the policy’s effect in a brief for Guttmacher: “Health providers have been forced to fire staff, reduce their services or even close their clinics altogether.”
The policy can also lead to a “chilling effect,” Barot explained in an interview. “We’ve seen in the past that NGOs are so afraid of the policy that they over-interpret it. … They self-censor activities that are permitted under the gag rule.” Now that the policy is back in place, she said, foreign organizations are “in a really untenable position: accepting USAID money and not providing comprehensive services to their patients.”
In New York magazine, the journalist Lisa Ryan recently reported on a set of studies that tracked the effect of the policy on abortion abroad. One, conducted by International Food Policy Research Institute in 2015, looked at the Mexico City policy’s impact in Ghana. When the policy was in place, a number of clinics curbed services or closed completely. There was an upswing in unintended pregnancies, with 20 percent ending in abortion, explains Ryan.
Another, from Stanford University in 2011, showed “robust empirical patterns suggesting that the Mexico City policy is associated with increases in abortion rates in sub-Saharan African countries.” The study’s authors wrote of the unintended consequence the rule seems to have: “If women consider abortion as a way to prevent unwanted births, then policies curtailing the activities of organizations that provide modern contraceptives may inadvertently lead to an increase in the abortion rate.”