Late Friday night, after most of the press had gone home, President Bush launched a new strategy to prohibit aid to groups that offer abortion counseling in developing countries.
With congressional Democrats set to push for a vote that would undo the rule he proposed on his first full day in office, the White House announced Friday that Bush would issue a presidential memorandum — a move that cannot be so easily undone by Congress as the initial rule.
"The goal is to implement the president's commitment to try to reduce the number of abortions around the world," White House Chief of Staff Andy Card said.
By issuing the new rules himself, instead of having a government agency do it, the president hopes to head off a congressional effort to block the policy. One Democratic senator says Bush is dodging a fight.
"I think he is a coward about the debate, he doesn't want the debate," California Sen. Barbara Boxer said. "He knows the American people will see through him that in fact he is a tool of the far right on these social issues."
The congressional move to overturn the "gag rule" never had much chance of success, but it could have caused a noisy abortion debate on Capitol Hill as the administration tries to keep the focus on the president's tax cut package.
"There are going to be plenty of abortion fights down the road," political analyst Charlie Cook said. "The Bush administration just didn't want one on this issue right now."
Abortion rights groups says they are not about to give in. They're considering a court battle to keep U.S. aid flowing to overseas groups that include abortion advice overseas.
At issue is the so-called Mexico City Policy, otherwise known as the "global gag rule." The rule — proposed by President Reagan in 1984, rescinded by President Clinton in 1993, and reinstated by Bush — bars recipients of U. S. foreign aid from promoting abortion as a method of family planning.
Josh Gerstein contributed to this report.