President Obama signed an executive order today reversing the ban that prohibits funding to international family planning groups that provide abortions, as first reported by ABC News.
Under the hotly debated "Mexico City Policy," the U.S. government could not provide funding for family planning services to clinics or groups that offered abortion-related services overseas, even if funding for those activities came from non-government sources. It essentially barred recipients of U.S. foreign aid from promoting abortion as a method of family planning.
If organizations received government funding, they would "agree as a condition of their receipt of federal funds that such organizations would neither perform nor actively promote abortion as a method of family planning in other nations."
The policy, dubbed the "Global Gag Rule" by abortion rights groups, was introduced by the administration of Ronald Reagan in 1984 in Mexico City, and was instituted that year. It was then overturned by President Bill Clinton in 1993 and restored by George W. Bush at the beginning of his office in 2001.
"It is my conviction that taxpayer funds should not be used to pay for abortions or advocate or actively promote abortion, either here or abroad," George W. Bush wrote in a memo to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in 2001.
Past presidents have instituted or revoked the ban on Jan. 22, the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. President Obama held off on that move, thinking it too combative.
Woman's Right to Choose
Obama released a paper statement Thursday marking the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade and recommitting to his stance on a woman's right to choose.
"We are reminded that this decision not only protects women's health and reproductive freedom but stands for a broader principle: that government should not intrude on our most private family matters. I remain committed to protecting a woman's right to choose," the statement said.
The new order will likely to draw heavy criticism from Republicans and anti-abortion groups, just as Obama's executive order to close the detainee center at Guantanamo Bay did Thursday.
On only his third full day in office, Obama is swiftly undoing Bush rules and distancing himself from the policies of the former president.
Bush's decision to re-invoke the ban came under fire by international groups that said the gag blocked much-needed aid to women's development agencies, especially in Africa.
It is already invoking furor among anti-abortion groups. More than two dozen members of Congress who oppose abortion Thursday joined the annual March for Life on the National Mall to warn that Obama's pro-choice position on abortion could lead to policies at odds with their movement.
"We're going to continue this fight," Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., said at the rally. "We may have lost an election. We have not lost the war."
If signed as expected, the executive order is likely to elate pro-abortion groups, who, for years fought with the Bush administration on his policies and complained that they received less than clear answers on the Mexico City policy.
"By overturning the global gag rule, President Obama has taken a tremendous first step toward promoting women's health around the world," said the Planned Parenthood Action Center in a written statement. "The fact is, the global gag rule was a threat to the health of millions of women. ... It's been a long eight years, and we have a lot more work to do to roll back President Bush's awful legacy on women's health."
Obama will likely reverse more of Bush's decisions when it comes to health. As early as next week, the president is expected to issue another order reversing the restrictions placed by Bush on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. On Friday, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first clinical trial that will use human embryonic stem cells.
Stimulus Plan Target: President's Day
In what has been a busy week for the new president, Obama met with bipartisan Democratic and Republican Congressional leaders this morning on the economic stimulus package.
Among those was Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, who Thursday criticized Obama's executive order that would close the detainee center at Guantanamo Bay within a year.
Obama admitted today that there are still differences in opinion on the details of the economic stimulus plan on Capitol Hill but said they are all unified by the reality of the dire economic situation they all have to deal with.
"I know that it is a heavy lift, to do something as substantial as we're doing right now," he said. "I recognize that there are still some differences around the table and between the administration and the members of Congress about particular details of the plan. But what I think unifies this group is recognition that we are experiencing an unprecedented, perhaps, economic crisis that has to be dealt with and dealt with rapidly."
He reaffirmed that "we are on target to make our Presidents' Day weekend" timeframe for passage of the plan.
The president said that reform elements of oversight, transparency and accountability will "all have to be part and parcel of a reform package, if we're going to be responsible in dealing with this economic crisis."
"Some of the reports that we've seen over the last couple of days about companies that have received taxpayer assistance, then going out and renovating bathrooms or offices, or in other ways not managing those dollars appropriately, the lack of accountability and transparency in how we are managing some of these programs to stabilize the financial system," Obama added.
But Republican leaders still expressed reservations about the plan. Boehner said they relayed their concerns to Obama about the size and spending of the economic stimulus package during the meeting. He specifically mentioned a provision in the bill that would allow 50 states to offer Medicaid family planning service, like contraceptives, with the federal government's 9-1 match. Republicans say that whether this is good public policy, it has nothing to do with an economic stimulus.
"How you can spend hundreds of millions of dollars on contraceptives -- how does that stimulate the economy?" Boehner said at a news conference following the meeting. "You can go through a whole host of issues in this bill that have nothing to do with growing jobs in America."
Meanwhile, Obama confirmed that his top economic advisor, Larry Summers, will be giving him a daily economic briefing each day.
"We are monitoring what's happening and, frankly, the news has not been good," Obama said.
The bipartisan group met for an hour behind closed doors after Obama's statement.