President Barack Obama has moved to scuttle one of former President George Bush’s most controversial anti-abortion actions:
President Barack Obama on Friday struck down the Bush administration’s ban on giving federal money to international groups that perform abortions or provide abortion information — an inflammatory policy that has bounced in and out of law for the past quarter-century. Obama’s executive order, the latest in an aggressive first week reversing contentious Bush policies, was warmly welcomed by liberal groups and denounced by abortion rights foes.
The ban has been a political football between Democratic and Republican administrations since GOP President Ronald Reagan first adopted it 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.
A White House spokesman, Bill Burton, said Obama signed the executive order, without coverage by the media, late on Friday afternoon. The abortion measure is a highly emotional one for many people, and the quiet signing was in contrast to the televised coverage of Obama’s Wednesday announcement on ethics rules and Thursday signing of orders on closing the Guantanamo Bay prison camp and banning torture in the questioning of terror suspects.
In its report the AP further notes that this action comes one day after the 36th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade abortion right decision that sparked a furor and created an election winning-losing “wedge” issue. The Washington Post notes that this policy was originally put in place by President Ronald Reagan, then scrapped by President Bill Clinton, and then put back in place by President Bush.
The order rescinds the Mexico City Policy, also known as the “gag rule,” which President Ronald Reagan originally instituted in 1984 and President Bill Clinton rescinded and President George W. Bush revived in 2001.
The decision had been eagerly expected by family planning groups, women’s health advocates and others, who hoped it would restore millions of dollars of funding to programs providing health care, contraceptive services, HIV prevention and other care around the world.
“For eight long years the global gag rule has been used by the Bush administration to play politics with the lives of poor women across the world,” said Gill Greer of the International Planned Parenthood Federation in London. “In rescinding this disastrous and unjust policy, President Obama has returned the United States to the international consensus on women’s health.”
The decision, which came one day after thousands of antiabortion activists participated in a March for Life on the Mall to protest the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion in the United States, was condemned by conservative groups.
“Yesterday, President Obama issued executive orders banning the torture of terrorists but today signed an order that exports the torture of unborn children around the world,” said Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council.
“At a debate last year at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church, then-candidate Barack Obama vowed to find ‘common ground’ on the issue of abortion and that he, as president, would work to ‘reduce the number of abortions,’ ” Perkins said. “His action today flies in the face of that vow and probably sets a record as the most quickly broken campaign promise ever, leaving the question, how many more broken promises to families lie ahead?”
But Obama had also made it clear he was not in agreement with Bush policies on this issue. What appears to be happening is that Obama is moving swiftly to take actions on some things he can easily do to fulfill some promises to the voters who worked hardest for him (reverse this policy, order Guantanamo closed, call in military leaders to talk about starting a serious process to plan to get out of Iraq, extending olive branches to the GOP even as talk radio hosts and some former Bush aides demonize him).
These are the promises he can keep. There are host of other that likely won’t occur.
So the move is signficant for several reasons:
1. It signals Obama taking full advantage of the honeymoon period to do some image-creating important policy changes from the Bush administration. This can only increase his clout at the beginning of his term.
2. It starts the process to roll back the impact that an anti-abortion-rights federal goverment had on this issue…even though history shows that on this issue the federal government has been like a see-saw.
3. It means Republicans will have a field day in their fund raising as they point to this and other Obama issues to argue to stalwarts that the need big bucks to get into power to roll back what Obama has rolled back.
4. It means Democrats are unlikely to want to lose power over the next 8 years because now they are again getting a taste of what it feels like when they system is on THEIR side.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.