Obama rescinds pro-life funding policy

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WASHINGTON — President Obama issued Friday an executive order overturning a ban on federal funds for organizations that perform or promote abortions in foreign countries.

In the same week of his inauguration as the country's 44th president, Obama ordered the repeal of what has been dubbed the Mexico City Policy. The rule has prohibited international family planning organizations from receiving federal funds unless they agree not to perform or counsel for abortion or lobby in order to liberalize the pro-life policies of foreign governments.

Both pro-life and abortion-rights organizations expected the new president to take the action soon after his inauguration. Obama declared his support for reducing abortions during the general election campaign, but his legislative career was marked by a voting record in favor of unlimited abortion rights. His administration also had indicated reversal of the Mexico City Policy would be forthcoming.

The Mexico City Policy has been on a political see-saw the last 16 years. Originally instituted by President Reagan in 1984 and announced at a conference in Mexico City, the policy remained in force until 1993, when President Clinton rescinded it on his second full day in the White House. President Bush reinstated it exactly eight years later. Obama overturned it on his third full day in office.

Southern Baptist ethics leader Richard Land and other pro-life advocates decried Obama's order.

"President Obama was the most radically pro-choice candidate of a major party in American history and pledged to Planned Parenthood that he would never back down on this issue," Land said. "Unfortunately, his executive order overturning the Mexico City Policy may just be the first step in his fulfillment of that campaign pledge to his radical pro-abortion supporters.

"With his action today, American taxpayers' money once again will be used in part to fund abortions that end the lives of our fellow human beings in other countries," he said.

Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life Action, said in a written release, "What a terrible way to begin a new administration. … We should not export the tragedy of abortion to other countries, and we certainly shouldn't do so via the hard-earned dollars of American taxpayers."

Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), said an effect of the order would be "to divert many millions of dollars away from groups that do not promote abortion and into the hands of those organizations that are the most aggressive in promoting abortion in developing countries. 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."

Only two organizations — the International Planned Parenthood Federation and Marie Stopes International — have refused to abide by the Mexico City Policy in recent years and consequently are refused the funds, according to Democrats for Life of America (DFLA). There are 650 organizations that accept federal money under the restrictions, DLFA reported.

Abortion-rights advocates applauded Obama's order.

"With the stroke of a pen, President Obama has lifted the stranglehold on women's health across the globe," said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in a written statement. "With President Obama, women in the U.S. and around the world have a president who puts protecting and strengthening women's health first."

Obama's action came a week after 78 members of the U.S. House of Representatives appealed to him to maintain the Mexico City Policy. Six of the signers to the Jan. 16 letter were Democrats, as is Obama.

The Helms Amendment, which bars the direct funding of abortions overseas, remains in force, NRLC's Johnson said. Congressional action is required to reverse that law.

The Mexico City Policy permitted exceptions for abortions in cases when the mother's life is threatened or the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest. Those cases are estimated to comprise only a small percentage, maybe three percent, of the total number of abortions.

The repeal of the Mexico City Policy may be only the first in a series of efforts by the new president to roll back federal pro-life measures. Other policies that may be targets of the Obama administration either through executive or legislative means include:

• Bush's 2001 policy that bars federal grants for stem cell research that results in the destruction of human embryos;

• The Bush administration's decision the last seven years to withhold congressionally approved funds for the United Nations Population Fund, based on the agency's support of a Chinese population control program that has included forced abortion and sterilization.

• The Hyde Amendment, a 1976 law that prohibits Medicaid and other federal funds from paying for abortions, except in cases of rape, incest or a threat to the mother's life.

Obama also has endorsed the Freedom of Choice Act, a congressional proposal that would overturn all restrictions on abortion, such as parental notification laws and bans on partial-birth abortion. Congress would have to pass FOCA before Obama could enact the legislation by signing it into law.