Obama Signs Executive Order Ending Ban on Abortion Funding
Since taking office, President Obama has been busy signing executive orders. One such order that was put through occurred on Friday when he ended the Bush administration’s ban on giving federal money to international groups that perform abortions or provide information on the option.
Liberal groups welcomed the decision, while abortion rights foes criticized the president.
Ronald Reagan originally established the act known as the “Mexico City policy” in 1984. Since then the ban has been reinstated and then reversed by Republican and Democratic presidents that followed him. Bill Clinton ended the ban in 1993, but George W. Bush re-instituted it in 2001 as one of his first acts in office.
A White House spokesman, Bill Burton, said Obama signed an executive order on the ban late Friday afternoon, without any coverage by the media. That was in contrast to the midday signings with fanfare of executive orders on other subjects earlier in the week.
When former president Bush re-instated the policy, the idea was to place a ban on 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. The rule also had prohibited federal funding for groups that lobby to legalize abortion or promote it as a family planning method.
Both Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who will oversee foreign aid, had promised to do away with the rule during the presidential campaign.
President Obama is also expected to restore funding to the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), most likely in the next budget. Both he and Clinton had pledged to reverse a Bush administration determination that assistance to the organization violated U.S. law. (The Bush administration had barred U.S. money from the fund, contending that its work in China supported a Chinese family planning policy of coercive abortion and involuntary sterilization. UNFPA has vehemently denied that it does.)
Organizations that had pressed Obama to make the abortion-ban change were jubilant.
“Women’s health has been severely impacted by the cutoff of assistance. President Obama’s actions will help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies, abortions and women dying from high-risk pregnancies because they don’t have access to family planning,” said Tod Preston, a spokesman for Population Action International, an advocacy group.
Meanwhile, anti-abortion groups criticized the move.
“President Obama not long ago told the American people that he would support policies to reduce abortions, but today he is effectively guaranteeing more abortions by funding groups that promote abortion as a method of population control,” said Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee.
Postscript: After writing this post I came across the following statement released by President Obama and published on the Whitehouse.gov site:
It is clear that the provisions of the Mexico City Policy are unnecessarily broad and unwarranted under current law, and for the past eight years, they have undermined efforts to promote safe and effective voluntary family planning in developing countries. For these reasons, it is right for us to rescind this policy and restore critical efforts to protect and empower women and promote global economic development.
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. I have no desire to continue this stale and fruitless debate.
It is time that we end the politicization of this issue. 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.
I have directed my staff to reach out to those on all sides of this issue to achieve the goal of reducing unintended pregnancies. They will also work to promote safe motherhood, reduce maternal and infant mortality rates and increase educational and economic opportunities for women and girls.
In addition, I look forward to working with Congress to restore U.S. financial support for the U.N. Population Fund. By resuming funding to UNFPA, the U.S. will be joining 180 other donor nations working collaboratively to reduce poverty, improve the health of women and children, prevent HIV/AIDS and provide family planning assistance to women in 154 countries.