Policy Forbid Funding of International Groups That Perform, Provide Information About Abortion
By Rob Stein and Michael Shear
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, January 23, 2009; 4:05 PM
President Barack Obama will sign an executive order today lifting a ban on U.S. funding for international family planning groups that perform abortions or provide counseling about the procedure, officials said speaking on background.
The order rescinds the Mexico City Policy, also known as the "gag rule," which President Ronald Reagan originally instituted in 1984 and President Bill Clinton rescinded and President George W. Bush revived in 2001. The officials who confirmed the plan did not want to be identified because they were not authorized to announce the decision.
The decision had been eagerly expected by family planning groups, women's health advocates and others, who hoped it would restore millions of dollars of funding to programs providing health care, contraceptive services, HIV prevention and other care around the world.
"For eight long years the global gag rule has been used by the Bush administration to play politics with the lives of poor women across the world," said Gill Greer of the International Planned Parenthood Federation in London. "In rescinding this disastrous and unjust policy, President Obama has returned the United States to the international consensus on women's health."
The decision, which came one day after thousands of antiabortion activists participated in a March for Life on the Mall to protest the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion in the United States, was condemned by conservative groups.
"Yesterday, President Obama issued executive orders banning the torture of terrorists but today signed an order that exports the torture of unborn children around the world," said Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council.
"At a debate last year at Rick Warren's Saddleback Church, then-candidate Barack Obama vowed to find 'common ground' on the issue of abortion and that he, as president, would work to 'reduce the number of abortions,'" Perkins said. "His action today flies in the face of that vow and probably sets a record as the most quickly broken campaign promise ever, leaving the question, how many more broken promises to families lie ahead?"
But abortion rights advocates hoped the decision would be the first in a series of moves by the new administration to reverse Bush administration policies related to abortion. They are pushing to increase funding for reproductive health programs, cut funding for sex education programs that focus on abstinence, and reverse a recently implemented Health and Human Services regulation that protects health-care workers who object to providing any care they consider objectionable, including abortion.
"We look forward to working with President Obama on common-sense policies such as reversing Bush's midnight HHS rule, funding comprehensive sex education to keep our teens healthy, and increasing access to affordable family planning that help prevent unintended and teen pregnancies and lead to healthy outcomes for women," said Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
The lifting of the Mexico City Policy would not permit U.S. funding to be used to provide abortions but would allow funding to resume to groups that provide other services, including counseling and referrals for abortions. Critics argued the policy resulted in more abortions by denying women access to contraceptives.
"We know from available evidence that voluntary access to contraception is the best way to reduce the number of abortions in the developing world," said Dana Hovig of Marie Stopes International, a London-based group that provides reproductive health care in 43 countries and was denied U.S. funding under the policy. "We now have an opportunity to demonstrate this fact once and for all."
The International Planned Parenthood Federation estimates it lost about $100 million in U.S. funding in the past eight years, which it estimates could have prevented 36 million pregnancies and 15 million abortions. That does not include funding that was cut off to its affiliates, such as programs in Kenya and Ghana.
"This is the true legacy of the global gag rule," Greer said.