Following a string of policy reversals, President Barack Obama struck down the Bush administration’s ban on providing federal aid to international organizations that preformed or promoted abortions.
During his first week in office, Obama primarily focused on non-politicized issues with support across the political spectrum, such as the closing of Guantanamo Bay. However, his decisions have not all been free of controversy, and some had to be made to satisfy his liberal supporters. The reversal of the Mexico City Policy was highly praised by liberal groups and decried by conservatives.
The new policy allows international family planning groups that provide abortions to receive federal funding, which had previously been banned.
Obama may have wanted to avoid controversy with his first actions as president, but this decision seemed inevitable. Republican President Ronald Reagan established the Mexico City Policy in 1984, Democrat Bill Clinton abolished it in 1993 and Republican George W. Bush reinstated it in 2001. Obama continued the pattern when he issued a presidential memorandum reversing the policy just one day after the 36th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling.
As a Democrat, this was something Obama had to do, and his administration has tried to downplay the decision’s political aspect.
Democrats argue that the ban was too broad, calling it the “global gag rule.” They say it not only stopped international organizations from providing abortions and abortion information, but also prevented services like prenatal care and access to contraception. Pro-life groups that supported the ban were morally opposed to abortion — not women’s health — but many international health groups were unwilling to change their abortion policies to receive funds.
Entrenched in political and moral ideology, this issue seems to have no clear solution. Democrats want to provide the best health care for women in poor regions of the world, and they see access to abortions as an important part of that care. Republicans support women’s health, but also champion the rights of unborn children and refuse to endorse abortions.
Obama followed the memorandum with a statement defending the decision. He argued that the action was an attempt to end political divisiveness and bickering over the ban. In truth, he merely changed which party was on the winning side of the political battle.
Obama said his administration “will initiate a fresh conversation on family planning, working to find areas of common ground.” His policy of trying to find common ground has won him much support, but while Americans can agree on many things, they cannot agree on everything. Obama’s opponents will be willing to support every practice of international health care organizations — except for abortions.
Once they reach the topic of abortion, the bipartisan conversation will come to a halt. It is unlikely that any new policy will be put in place, because the only thing Republicans want to ban is a central platform of the Democrats.
Those who support the rights of unborn children received their biggest setback with the Roe v. Wade ruling. Since then, abortion-friendly policies have continued to expand, but pro-life Republican presidents have managed to keep American tax dollars from funding abortions in foreign clinics.
International organizations did not have to allow themselves to be “gagged” by the ban. A single policy change would have allowed them to receive funds to help both women and their children. Abolishing the ban was unnecessary, and Obama’s actions have not quelled the debate.
It is likely that the next time a Republican takes the White House, the ban will reappear.
In the end, it will probably take a Supreme Court decision to resolve the issue.
Michael Hardcastle is majoring in mass communications.