Obama Intends to Lift Family-Planning 'Gag Rule'
WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama will issue an order restoring U.S. funding for international family-planning groups involved with abortion. But he chose not to do so on Thursday, the anniversary of Roe v. Wade.
President Obama was breaking with the tradition set by his recent predecessors to make an abortion-related order on the anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling, another example of his attempt to support liberal policies he believes in while trying to defuse emotional political debates.
Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both used Jan. 22, the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision guaranteeing legal abortion, to change U.S. policy toward organizations involved with family-planning and abortion.
Under the original policy, established by President Ronald Reagan in 1984, U.S. funds for contraception and other family-planning services could not go to organizations that advocate, counsel or offer abortion. Opponents call it the "global gag rule." Mr. Clinton, a Democrat, lifted that restriction when be became president in 1993, and then the Republican Mr. Bush changed it back in 2001.
President Obama plans to reverse it yet again, according to officials inside and outside the administration. His timing was unclear, though several advocates expected it soon.
But he chose not to move on Thursday, as tens of thousands of abortion opponents marched in Washington. He issued a statement that both affirmed his support for Roe -- and his determination to reduce the need for abortions. "While this is a sensitive and often divisive issue, no matter what our views, we are united in our determination to prevent unintended pregnancies, reduce the need for abortion, and support women and families in the choices they make," the president said in a statement. "To accomplish these goals, we must work to find common ground to expand access to affordable contraception, accurate health information, and preventative services," he said.
That statement reflects the tone he struck during the presidential campaign, offering staunch support for legal abortion, with a quick pivot toward more common ground. "Nobody's pro-abortion," he said during the third presidential debate. "I think it's always a tragic situation."
By holding off on the policy change, the president hoped to divorce the question of family-planning funding from the frenzied and highly charged emotions surrounding the Roe anniversary, according to two people familiar with his thinking.
That's a respectful move, said the Rev. Joel Hunter, pastor of Northland Church, outside Orlando, Fla., an abortion opponent who has tried to expand the evangelical agenda.
"I really do appreciate their sensitivity to this day and this issue," he said. "To do it [the policy change] on a day that pro-life people see as a day of grief, and a day of a really hurtful decision, would be, I think, very insensitive. And that's not who I think President Obama is or would mean to be."
Other abortion opponents were not mollified. Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life, thinks the change in policy amounts to U.S. tax dollars funding abortion and sees no positive outcome. But she called the delayed timing "a politically savvy move" by the White House.
Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, which offers abortion and family planning, says she doesn't care when President Obama changes the policy, as long as it is changed. "He has clearly stated his opposition to the global gag rule and his intention to overturn it," she said.
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