WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama plans to sign an executive order ending the ban on federal funds for international groups that perform abortions or provide information on the option,
officials told The Associated Press on Friday.
Liberal groups welcomed the decision while abortion rights foes criticized the president. Known as the "Mexico City policy," the ban has been reinstated and then reversed by Republican and Democratic presidents since GOP President Ronald Reagan established it in 1984. Democrat Bill Clinton ended the ban in 1993, but Republican George W. Bush re-instituted it in 2001 as one of his first acts in office.
The policy bans U.S. taxpayer money, usually in the form of U.S. Agency for International Development funds, from going to international family planning groups that either offer abortions or provide information, counseling or referrals about abortion. It is also known as the "global gag rule," because it prohibits taxpayer funding for groups that lobby to legalize abortion or promote it as a family planning method.
A Democratic official and a senior U.S. official who disclosed the plans did so on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to pre-empt Obama's announcement.
Obama was expected to sign the executive order at a low-key event, one day after the 36th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion.
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. Clinton visited the U.S. Agency for International Development, through which much U.S. foreign aid is disbursed, on Friday but made no mention of the step.
Obama has spent his first days in office systematically signing executive orders reversing Bush administration policies on issues ranging from foreign policy to government operations.
In a move related to the lifting of the abortion rule, Obama also is expected to restore funding to the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), probably 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.
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.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)