NRL News
Page 1
February 2009
Volume 36
Issue 2

Obama Orders Funds to Pro-Abortion Groups;
Senate Backs up Pro-Abortion Policy, 60–37

WASHINGTON (February 4, 2009)—As one of his first official acts, President Barack Obama signed an order to direct U.S. funds to organizations that perform and promote abortion overseas.

In a “presidential memorandum” signed on January 23, Obama overturned the so-called “Mexico City Policy,” a vital pro-life policy that had been adopted by President George W. Bush and by the two pro-life Republican presidents who served before him.

Under the policy, private organizations that performed or promoted abortion overseas were not eligible to receive funds under the U.S. foreign aid for “population assistance” or “family planning” programs, which total $461 million this year.

NRLC Legislative Director Douglas Johnson commented, “President Obama’s order will put hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars into the hands of organizations that aggressively promote abortion as a population-control tool in the developing world. Much of this will consist of money diverted away from groups that do not promote abortion, and into the hands of those organizations that are the most aggressive in promoting abortion in developing countries.”

Johnson added, “When he was campaigning last fall, Obama told the American people that he would support policies to reduce abortions, but by issuing this order, he effectively guaranteed more abortions by funding groups that are ideologically committed to the doctrine that abortion on demand must be universally available as a birth control method.”

Johnson noted that one of the most militant abortion-promoting organizations, the International Planned Parenthood Federation, estimated that it lost at least $100 million during the Bush Administration because it would not agree to the Mexico City Policy.

“Obama’s January 23 order is only the first in an anticipated series of attacks on longstanding pro-life policies, as the new administration pushes Obama’s sweeping abortion agenda,” Johnson said. “That agenda includes repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which would result in tax-funded abortion as a birth control method in the U.S., and imposition of sweeping pro-abortion mandates on private employers through health-care reform legislation.” (See “Obama Administration, New Congress Poised to Push Broad Pro-Abortion Agenda,” January 2009 NRL News, page 1, and updates at

The pro-life policy on foreign aid was originally adopted by President Reagan in 1984 and formally announced at a UN-sponsored conference in Mexico City—hence the name “Mexico City Policy.” It was continued by President George H.W. Bush, overturned by President Bill Clinton, and restored by President George W. Bush.

Basically, the policy required grantees to refrain from performing abortions (except to save the life of the mother, or in cases of rape or incest), or lobbying to legalize abortion, or otherwise promoting abortion as a birth-control method. Critics disparaged the policy as a “global gag rule.”

Obama’s January 23 “presidential memorandum” was addressed to the Secretary of State and to the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the agency that administers many U.S. foreign aid programs. Obama said that the ban on funding of nongovernmental organizations that “engage in a wide range of activities, including providing advice, counseling, or information regarding abortion, or lobbying a foreign government to legalize or make abortion available” constituted “excessively broad conditions” on U.S. aid—conditions that he characterized as “unwarranted.”

Ten days after President Obama took office, the Gallup firm conducted a national poll to measure public approval for a number of his most widely publicized policy initiatives. The Gallup firm reported on February 2, “Obama’s decision to reverse the prohibition on funding for overseas family-planning providers may be the least popular thing he has done so far. This [policy overturned by Obama] was an executive order that forbade federal government money from going to overseas family-planning groups that provide abortions or offer abortion counseling. Fifty-eight percent of Americans disapprove of Obama’s decision to lift this ban, while only 35% approve of it.”

Senate Vote

On January 28, the U.S. Senate voted to back up Obama’s action. During consideration of an unrelated bill, pro-life Senator Mel Martinez (R-Fl.) offered an amendment to reverse the Obama order, and restore a ban on U.S. funding of any overseas organization “that performs or actively promotes abortion as a method of birth control.” The amendment, which was supported by NRLC, failed on a vote of 60 to 37 (see roll call, page 22).

Only one Democrat voted in favor of the pro-life amendment (Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska), which was supported by all but four of the Republican senators.

Regarding the Obama order, Martinez said, “I’m disappointed in the President’s decision to reverse this policy. . . . Internationally, this policy reversal allows U.S. tax dollars to go to organizations that have agendas directly counter to the societal and cultural values of their host nations. The result will be damaged relations with those countries and a reversal of the significant progress made in recent years in creating a culture that respects life at home and abroad.”

Speaking in support of the Martinez amendment, Senator Sam Brownback (R-Ks.) noted that in “a lot of places, it [the Obama policy] does not make any sense . . . in Latin American countries, African countries that are very strongly pro-life, in many cases, we are supporting policies or groups or institutions that are promoting abortion. . . . I simply point out that this does not help us in foreign policy. This certainly does not help the budget deficit or the debt. This certainly does not stimulate the economy.”

But pro-abortion Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Ca.) celebrated Obama’s order, saying, “With President Obama, this is just the start of the changes he will bring that will help women . . . .”

In the same vein, Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, commented, “President Obama has taken a tremendous step in righting the wrongs perpetrated against women around the world by the Bush administration,” and in the same breath, called for further pro-abortion actions by the new Administration, including elimination of the Hyde Amendment and a restoration of U.S. funding to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

NRLC’s Johnson noted that despite Obama’s order and the Senate vote, the direct use of the U.S. funds to perform abortion procedures will remain unlawful under a law known as the Helms Amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act.

“The Helms Amendment can be changed only by an act of Congress, but because the Obama Administration is joined at the hip with the abortion lobby, we will be watching carefully for any evidence that the Administration is failing to enforce the Helms Amendment,” Johnson said.