President Joe Biden on Thursday rescinded a regulation that barred U.S. foreign aid from being used to perform or promote abortions. His decision, while expected, was cheered by abortion-choice advocates and some humanitarian groups and denounced by anti-abortion groups.
Biden's move came just a week after he was inaugurated and fulfills a campaign pledge to reverse a policy that previous Republican presidents, including his immediate predecessor, Donald Trump, have instated immediately on taking office.
The policy has been a political ping-pong ball, bouncing back and forth between Republican and Democratic presidents since it was first enacted in 1985 during former President Ronald Reagan's second term.
“Like memoranda issued by President Clinton and President Obama before him, it immediately rescinds the global gag rule, also referred to as the Mexico City Policy, which bars international non-profits that provide abortion counseling or referrals from receiving U.S. funding,” the White House said.
Critics of the policy say it hurts women’s reproductive health care and contributes to poverty worldwide. Supporters argue it is essential to preserve the sanctity of life.
Trump had expanded the rule to include nearly all federal health funding, but its effects were felt most abroad, where U.S. assistance can be an essential part of a country's health care spending.
Although supporters of the policy argue that the overall amount of U.S. health care aid was not affected, critics maintained it contributed to a rise in pregnancy-related complications as well other issues by forcing some clinics to reduce broader health services, including for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and other infectious diseases, if they wanted to retain funding.
Reaction to Biden's decision was swift and sharp, even before it was officially announced. Abortion-rights groups and Democratic lawmakers hailed it as key to improving women's lives, while anti-abortion groups denounced it as immoral and unnecessary.
“The Global Gag Rule has had a sweeping effect on lifesaving health care in some of the most vulnerable parts of the world," said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., the only woman on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “It is shameful that the Trump administration chose to not only implement but exponentially expand this ill-conceived policy to historic proportions.”
She called it “an important first step to restore access to family planning services and mitigate the damage caused by an administration that pursued this dangerous policy without regard for its impact."
Doctors Without Borders, which has spoken out against the Mexico City policy, welcomed the move but said more must be done to address the global health care crisis.
“While we are relieved to see a halt to this dangerous policy, there is much more work to do to mitigate the damage we have witnessed. Rescinding the Global Gag Rule is just a first step," it said. “Millions of women still don’t have access to safe abortion care because of restrictive laws, cost, stigma, a lack of trained providers, or other unnecessary barriers, such as mandatory waiting periods or misleading information.”
Anti-abortion groups were equally as strident in the condemnation.
“Funneling U.S. tax dollars to abortion groups overseas is an abhorrent practice that flies in the face of the ‘unity’ Joe Biden and Kamala Harris promised to inspire,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the Susan B. Anthony List, which seeks to elect anti-abortion candidates to Congress and other offices.
Echoing the comments of others, she blasted the Biden administration for once again allowing taxpayer money to fund abortions, maintaining the move was payback for a group of “abortion industry giants” that support the president's campaign for president.
“Pushing abortion on other nations is not compassion, it is ideological neo-colonization,” said Lila Rose of Live Action, a national anti-abortion group. "This decision is a dark day for our nation — it will lead to more deaths of more children and for that, Joe Biden should be ashamed.”