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Janet Schwartz/AFP/Newscom

And on my third day in office ...

Government | Obama lifts ban on abortion advocacy overseas, a "revelation of priorities"

Issue: "The Obama era," Feb. 14, 2009

When Austin Ruse meets people in developing countries, they tell him that what they need most are the basics: sustainable agriculture, sanitation, basic health care. "What they do not need is groups like Planned Parenthood performing more abortions," said Ruse, president of C-FAM, a nongovernmental organization that lobbies at the UN.

But that is exactly what they'll get in the wake of one of Barack Obama's first acts as president. On Jan. 23, the day following the 36th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade high court decision that legalized abortion, Obama reversed the executive order known as the "Mexico City Policy." The rule prohibited grantees in receipt of U.S. funds from performing abortions, lobbying to legalize abortion, and promoting abortion as a family-planning method.

Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., called the move a "revelation of priorities."

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"In his inaugural address. . . the president was both lofty and eloquent, and his inspiring words to Americans and the world were historic and uplifting," said Smith, co-chairman of the House Bipartisan Pro-life Caucus. "But in Washington, actions speak louder than words. Sadly, in his first few days, President Obama's actions show he has opted to spread abortion all around the world, and use U.S. taxpayer money to support it."

Ronald 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 and endangers the health of Third World women. Bill Clinton reversed the policy in 1993, and George W. Bush reinstated it in 2001 in one of his first acts as president.

Now, pro-abortion groups are hailing Obama's pending 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 abortion advocacy group.

National Right to Life Committee legislative director Douglas 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."

That, said C-FAM's Austin Ruse, is at least as problematic as the funding of actual overseas abortions. "Most of the world, especially the developing world, has fairly strict abortion laws, stricter at least than those in the United States. Now, federal money will go to abortion advocacy groups working to change foreign abortion laws to make them more like the laws of the U.S. It is the worst kind of cultural imperialism."

Pro-life groups anticipate that Obama's action on the Mexico City Policy is simply the first in a series of moves to roll back longstanding pro-life policies. One likely target: the Hyde Amendment, the repeal of which could impose pro-abortion mandates on private employers through health-care reform legislation, and could also allow tax-funded elective abortion.

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