WASHINGTON, Jan 23 (Reuters) – President Barack Obama on Friday lifted restrictions on U.S. government funding for groups that provide abortion services or counseling abroad, reversing a policy of his Republican predecessor George W. Bush, a spokesman said.
The Democratic president’s decision was a victory for advocates of abortion rights on an issue that in recent years has become a tit-for-tat policy change each time the White House shifts from one party to the other.
When the ban was in place, no U.S. government funding for family planning services could be given to clinics or groups that offer abortion services or counseling in other countries even if the funds for those activities come from non-U.S. government sources.
Obama signed an executive order lifting the restrictions on Friday, a White House spokesman said.
It has been called the Mexico City Policy because it was unveiled at a United Nations conference there in 1984 and became one of the centerpiece social policies of the conservative administration of former President Ronald Reagan, a Republican.
Critics call it the “gag rule” because it also cuts funds to groups that advocate or lobby for the lifting of abortion restrictions, so they say it infringes on free speech. They also say it has reduced healthcare for some of the world’s poorest women.
Former President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, rescinded the rule when he took office in January 1993 and his successor, Republican George W. Bush, reinstated it in January 2001.
Planned Parenthood, a health care provider and advocacy group for abortion rights, welcomed the move.
“With the stroke of a pen, President Obama has lifted the stranglehold on women’s health across the globe,” Cecile Richards, the group’s president, said in a statement.
“No longer will health care providers be forced to choose between receiving family planning funding and restricting the health care services they provide to women.”