Washington President Barack Obama on Friday struck down the Bush administration’s ban on giving federal money to international groups that perform abortions or provide abortion information — an inflammatory policy that has bounced in and out of law for the past quarter-century.
Obama’s move, the latest in an aggressive first week reversing contentious Bush policies, was warmly welcomed by liberal groups and denounced by abortion rights foes.
The ban has been a political football between Democratic and Republican administrations since GOP President Ronald Reagan first adopted it 1984. Democrat Bill Clinton ended the ban in 1993, but Republican George W. Bush reinstituted it in 2001 as one of his first acts in office.
“For too long, international family planning assistance has been used as a political wedge issue, the subject of a back and forth debate that has served only to divide us,” Obama said in a statement released by the White House. “I have no desire to continue this stale and fruitless debate.”
He said the ban was unnecessarily broad and undermined family planning in developing countries.
“In the coming weeks, my administration will initiate a fresh conversation on family planning, working to find areas of common ground to best meet the needs of women and families at home and around the world,” the president said.
Obama issued the presidential memorandum rescinding the Bush policy without coverage by the media, late Friday afternoon. The abortion measure is a highly emotional one for many people, and the quiet signing was in contrast to the televised coverage of Obama’s announcement Wednesday on ethics rules and Thursday’s signing of orders on closing the Guantanamo Bay prison camp and banning torture in the questioning of terror suspects.
His action came one day after the 36th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion.
The Bush policy had banned U.S. taxpayer money, usually in the form of Agency for International Development funds, from going to international family planning groups that either offer abortions or provide information, counseling or referrals about abortion as a family planning method.
Critics have long held that the rule unfairly discriminates against the world’s poor by denying U.S. aid to groups that may be involved in abortion but also work on other aspects of reproductive health care and HIV/AIDS, leading to the closure of free and low-cost rural clinics.
Supporters of the ban say that the United States still provides millions of dollars in family planning assistance around the world and that the rule prevents anti-abortion taxpayers from backing something they believe is morally wrong.
The ban has been known as the “Mexico City policy” for the city a U.S. delegation first announced it at a U.N. International Conference on Population.