Day 3 of life in Obama times, and there’s more good news to report: Today the president will lift the so-called global gag rule or Mexico City Policy that forbids NGOs that receive federal funding from providing abortion services or counseling abroad. The rule was first announced in 1984, in Mexico City at the United Nations International Conference on Population, at the height of Reagan-era social conservative fever. It meant that many international family planning and reproductive health organizations (including the International Planned Parenthood Federation) lost a heap of money from the feds, and that others that wanted or needed to keep their funding had to conform to strict policies in which advocacy, counseling or provision of abortion services was verboten. The rule was rescinded by Bill Clinton in 1993, immediately after he took office, and promptly reinstated by George Bush in 2001, days after he took office. So Obama’s decision here is not surprising, but it is certainly good news for women and men around the world.
His choice to lift the gag today rather than yesterday, the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision and the date that both Clinton and Bush made their announcements, is being read as a sign of respect toward antiabortion activists, who staged a large march in D.C. yesterday. That may be true, but it’s also true that by making more pro-choice news today, after issuing a very strong statement in support of Roe yesterday, Obama is ensuring that his lift of the gag rule — which really does change the landscape for international health and family services — can stand as its own news story, rather than just getting mashed in with the rest of the Jan. 22 “abortion day” news.