FEMINISM/POLITICS - 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 policies of the previous president 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 Republican 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.
"For too long, international family planning assistance has been used as a political wedge issue, the subject of a back and forth debate that has served only to divide us," Obama said in a statement released from the White House. "I have no desire to continue this stale and fruitless debate."
He said the ban was unnecessarily broad and undermined family planning in developing countries.
"In the coming weeks, my administration will initiate a fresh conversation on family planning, working to find areas of common ground to best meet the needs of women and families at home and around the world," said President Obama.
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
His action came one day after the 36th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court ruling in Roe vs. Wade that legalized abortion.
The Bush Administration had banned money from going to international family planning groups that either offer abortions or provide information, counseling or referrals about abortion as a family planning method.
Critics have long held that the rule unfairly discriminates against the world's poor by denying U.S. aid to groups that may be involved in abortion but also work on other aspects of reproductive health care and HIV/AIDS, leading to the closure of free and low-cost rural clinics.
Supporters of the ban say that the United States still provides millions of dollars in family planning assistance around the world. The ban has been known as the "Mexico City policy" for the city a U.S. delegation first announced it at a UN International Conference on Population.
Organizations and legislators that had pressed Obama to rescind the Mexico City policy were jubilant. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the move "will help save lives and empower the poorest women and families to improve their quality of life and their future."
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 earlier Friday but made no mention of the step, which had not yet been announced.
Anti-abortionists condemned Obama's decision.
International Women's Day