US President Barack Obama continued his march to reverse contentious Bush administration policies, ending the ban on giving federal money to international groups that perform abortions or provide information about it.
Obama signed a memorandum reversing the ban on Friday afternoon, a day after he ordered the closures of the Guantanamo Bay prison and secret overseas CIA prisons, a review of military trials of terror suspects and a ban on torture.
The president’s focus on foreign policy comes even as he tries to deal with economic issues, Americans’ biggest concern at a time when the economy is struggling. On Friday, he met with Republican and Democratic leaders at the White House to discuss legislative hurdles as he strives to get his massive economic stimulus plan enacted.
Liberal groups welcomed Obama’s decision on the abortion funding ban, while abortion rights foes criticized the president. The abortion measure is a highly emotional one for many people and Obama’s action came a day after the 36th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe versus Wade ruling that legalized abortion.
Critics have long held that the rule unfairly discriminates against the world’s poor by denying US aid to groups that may be involved in abortion, but also work on other aspects of reproductive healthcare and HIV/AIDS, leading to the closure of free and low-cost rural clinics.
Supporters of the ban say that the US still provides millions of dollars in family planning assistance around the world and that the rule prevents anti-abortion taxpayers from backing something they believe is morally wrong.
The Bush policy reversed by Obama had banned US taxpayer money, usually in the form of Agency for International Development funds, from going to international family planning groups that either offer abortions or provide information, counseling or referrals about abortion. The rule had also prohibited federal funding for groups that lobby to legalize abortion or promote it as a family planning method.
“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 by 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,” Obama said.