By Chaz Muth

Catholic News Service
and Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T

WASHINGTON-Pro-life activists quickly denounced President Barack Obama’s Jan. 23 signature on an executive order reversing the Mexico City policy, a move that clears the way for the federal government to provide aid to programs that promote or perform abortion overseas.

The Associated Press reported late in the afternoon that Obama signed an executive order reversing the ban that was first instituted by President Ronald Reagan in 1984.

Obama signed the order with no fanfare and with no news media in the room, a marked contrast to signings of executive orders earlier in the week.

“It is very disappointing that President Obama has reversed the Mexico City Policy, which prevents U.S. funding of organizations that perform and promote abortion as a family planning method in developing nations. An administration that wants to reduce abortions should not spanert U.S. funds to groups that promote abortions,” said Cardinal Justin Rigali, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities. The Cardinal released his statement Jan. 23, after Obama had signed the order.

“Cardinal Francis George, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote to President-elect Obama last week urging him to retain this policy,” Cardinal Rigali added. “As Cardinal George said in his letter: ‘The Mexico City Policy, first established in 1984, has wrongly been attacked as a restriction on foreign aid for family planning. In fact, it has not reduced such aid at all, but has ensured that family planning funds are not spanerted to organizations dedicated to performing and promoting abortions instead of reducing them. Once the clear line between family planning and abortion is erased, the idea of using family planning to reduce abortions becomes meaningless, and abortion tends to replace contraception as the means for reducing family size.

‘”A shift toward promoting abortion in developing nations would also increase distrust of the United States in these nations, whose values and culture often reject abortion, at a time when we need their trust and respect,'” the Cardinal said.

The policy banned U.S. taxpayer money, usually in the form of funds from the U.S. Agency for International Development, from going to international family planning groups that either offer abortions or provide information, counseling or referrals about abortion.

A federal law known as the Hyde amendment prohibits U.S. funding from being used directly to provide abortions.

The Mexico City Policy was established in 1984, reversed by President Bill Clinton in 1993 and re-established under President George W. Bush in 2001. Clinton and Bush each took their actions on Jan. 22, the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 decisions of Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton that recognized abortion as a constitutional right and overturned state laws against abortion.

The policy has been called the “global gag rule” by its opponents, because it prohibits taxpayer funding for groups that even talk about abortion if there is an unplanned pregnancy, and is known as the Mexico City Policy because it was unveiled at a U.N. conference there in 1984.

“What a terrible way to begin a new administration, with an abortion business bailout that will exploit women in developing countries for political ends,” said Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life Action, a Washington-based pro-life activist organization. “We should not export the tragedy of abortion to other nations, and we certainly shouldn’t do so via the hard-earned dollars of American taxpayers.”

Many people expected Obama, like Clinton and Bush, to sign the executive order Jan. 22, when thousands of pro-life marchers were protesting U.S. abortion policy, but he decided to wait a day.

“I see that as a sign of respect to the Catholics and other pro-life activists,” said Thomas P. Melady, a former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, who wanted to see the Mexico City policy remain intact.

“It says something about his style and the courtesy he extended to those of us participating in the March for Life,” Melady said Jan. 23. “It says he is concerned about the other point of view, which is a good foundation for finding common ground.”

Not everyone saw Obama’s waiting a day after the pro-life observance as a sign of respect.

“If he respected the pro-life cause, he wouldn’t have signed this order at all,” said Deirdre A. McQuade, assistant director for policy and communications for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office of Pro-Life Activities.

“We’re concerned this can only be the tip of the iceberg for President Obama’s abortion policy. This should strengthen our resolve” for the pro-life cause, she said.

The executive order will not fund abortions directly, McQuade said, but it will indirectly provide financial resources to perform the procedures.

“Since these organizations will be getting U.S. funding, it will free them up to use money they would have had to spend elsewhere on abortions,” she said.

Susan Vadas, director of the Philadelphia Archdiocese’s Respect Life Office, added, “President Obama’s recent reversal of the Mexico City Policy is a definite setback in the cause of defending life on all fronts and seems to be indicative of the changes we will see in the months and years ahead during this administration.

“Sadly, without this policy,” Vadas said, “there will be no assurance that U.S. funds will not be used in the promotion or provision of abortions as part of the family planning programs of developing countries. With the exception of years during the Clinton administration, the Mexico City Policy has protected the lives of countless unborn children in these nations since 1984. Now, with funding restored, the door has been opened for the destruction of innocent human lives and sends a message that America approves of abortion as an option for limiting family size or a country’s population.”