Activists on both sides of the abortion debate had been anticipating that President Obama would sign an order reversing the executive order known as the Mexico City Policy, and on Friday afternoon he did. This rule had prohibited grantees in receipt of U.S. funding from performing abortions, lobbying to legalize abortion, or promoting abortion as a family-planning method.
"This is the first in an anticipated series of attacks on longstanding pro-life policies, as the new administration pushes Obama's sweeping abortion agenda," said Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC).
That agenda includes repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which could impose pro-abortion mandates on private employers through health care reform legislation, and also allow tax-funded elective abortions.
President Reagan established the Mexico City Policy in 1984. Pro-abortion groups refer to the order as the "global gag rule" and claim it violates free speech while endangering the health of Third World women. President Clinton reversed the policy in 1993, and President Bush reinstated it in 2001, in one of his first acts as president.
Now pro-abortion groups are hailing Obama's reversal of the policy, claiming, in contradiction to the policy's express language, that it "cut off" family-planning assistance to Third World women. "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.
The NRLC's Johnson said the reversal will have the opposite effect, diverting "many millions of dollars away from groups that do not promote abortion, and into the hands of those organizations that are the most aggressive in promoting abortion in developing countries. President Obama not long ago told the American people that he would support policies to reduce abortions, but . . . he is effectively guaranteeing more abortions by funding groups that promote abortion as a method of population control."
Democrat-led congressional hearings on the Mexico City Policy in October 2007 seemed to underscore his point. Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., called as witnesses medical- and family-planning professionals from the African continent, stacking the deck in opposition to the largely pro-life policy by a factor of three-to-one.
Rep. Donald Manzullo, R-Ill., repeatedly asked Joana Nerquaye-Tetteh, former executive director of Planned Parenthood in Ghana, to acknowledge a number of facts about the Mexico City Policy: First, that it provides exceptions for abortion counseling and referrals in cases involving rape, incest, or the life of the mother. Second, that the rule even allows grantees and medical professionals to counsel and refer for abortion women who say they want to terminate their pregnancies and ask for information on how to do so safely. And third, that the policy does not prevent the disclosure to women of lifesaving medical information.
But in her testimony Nerquaye-Tetteh insisted the policy endangers women, using as an example those who become pregnant after failing to use contraceptives correctly. "The person did not either go according to the instructions, or sometimes they did everything and you still get a contraceptive failure," Nerquaye-Tetteh said. "So in a situation like that, what do you do? We still need to give the information to that woman that she has a choice to make. . . . [T]hat, for us, is a lifesaving medical information."
Nerquaye-Tetteh also said African women are having "too many children."
Although Obama's latest order on the Mexico City Policy will result in major subsidies for organizations that promote abortion overseas, the direct use of the U.S. funds to perform abortion procedures will remain unlawful under the Helms Amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act.