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.
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.