President Obama didn't do it symbolically on the anniversary Thursday of the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion in the United States.
But today, he signed an executive order ending the ban on federal funds for international groups that promote or perform abortions.
The move reverses the rule put in place by the Bush administration. Republican and Democratic presidents have been changing the rule like a ping-pong ball.
Abortion rights groups, which supported Obama during the campaign with money and volunteers, have been pushing for the change in the policy, which bars US taxpayer money from going to international family planning groups that either offer abortions or provide information, counseling, or referrals about abortion.
Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, hailed the move.
“President Obama’s action today reinforces why elections matter and how new leadership can end divisive policies that harm women,” Keenan said in a statement . “Reversing this Bush-era policy means that the world’s poorest women may now have access to vital health services, from prenatal care to contraception. The president’s action today reflects the public’s call for a focus on commonsense, common-ground solutions that make a difference in the lives of women and their families.”
Senator John F. Kerry, the new chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, also applauded the change.
“I am glad that President Obama has moved so swiftly to lift the Global Gag Rule which has too long handcuffed our ability to provide aid around the world. Today's announcement is a very powerful signal to our neighbors around the world that the United States is once again back in the business of good public policy and ideology no longer blunts our ability to save lives around the globe," Kerry said in a statement.
“For too long, the Mexico City policy isolated the United States and limited our leadership. By tying the hands of global health providers, ideology trumped our capacity to provide effective family planning services and limited the scope of partners we could work with in the international community. It hindered the ability of NGOs to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS and denied contraceptives to families in the world’s poorest countries.”
UPDATE: This evening, the White House did issue a statement from Obama:
“It is clear that the provisions of the Mexico City Policy are unnecessarily broad and unwarranted under current law, and for the past eight years, they have undermined efforts to promote safe and effective voluntary family planning in developing countries. For these reasons, it is right for us to rescind this policy and restore critical efforts to protect and empower women and promote global economic development.
“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. I have no desire to continue this stale and fruitless debate.
“It is time that we end the politicization of this issue. 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.
“I have directed my staff to reach out to those on all sides of this issue to achieve the goal of reducing unintended pregnancies. They will also work to promote safe motherhood, reduce maternal and infant mortality rates and increase educational and economic opportunities for women and girls.
“In addition, I look forward to working with Congress to restore U.S. financial support for the U.N. Population Fund. By resuming funding to UNFPA, the U.S. will be joining 180 other donor nations working collaboratively to reduce poverty, improve the health of women and children, prevent HIV/AIDS and provide family planning assistance to women in 154 countries.”
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.