On the 28th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, President Bush issued an executive order to limit the use of U.S. funds to subsidize abortion and abortion advocacy overseas.
“It is my conviction that taxpayer funds should not be used to pay for abortions or advocate or actively promote abortions, either here or abroad,” Mr. Bush said in the order, issued just after 5 p.m. yesterday, his first working day at the White House.
“It is therefore my belief that the Mexico City policy should be restored.”
The Mexico City policy, announced by President Reagan in 1984, required nongovernmental organizations to agree to restrictions on their abortion activities abroad as a condition of receiving federal funds.
The rules required that the groups could not perform abortions, promote abortion as a method of family planning or lobby governments to alter their abortion laws.
President Clinton suspended the rule on his third day in office, Jan. 22, 1993, as 75,000 abortion opponents marched outside the White House. It was one of five executive orders lowering federal barriers to abortion.
The U.S. Agency for International Development gives about $600 million a year to family planning and reproductive-health programs in developing countries.
“This is a great blow to the other side,” said Austin Ruse, director of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute at the United Nations. “This is something they fought tooth and nail during the Reagan-Bush era. It has real meaning to the pro-life movement.”
Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer denied that the president’s early move was meant merely to reassure abortion foes.
“That’s an issue that he addressed directly in the campaign and said that he did not support use of taxpayer dollars to fund abortions abroad,” Mr. Fleischer said. The president is “making good on a campaign promise that is very well known.”
Mr. Fleischer would not say whether Mr. Bush plans to issue another order regarding fetal-tissue research.
One of Mr. Clinton’s other four executive orders allowed federal funding of research into transplanting tissue from aborted fetuses to treat Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, leukemia and diabetes.
“The president is very well aware of the importance of that issue,” Mr. Fleischer said. “It presents a fine balance between medical research and helping find cures and solutions to problems, and protecting the life of the unborn.
“He does support research from adult stem cells, but he does not support fetal tissue research from induced abortions. And I think that’s an important distinction to make.”
The three remaining Clinton-era executive orders allowed:
Abortions in military hospitals when the government does not pay the bill.
Nonphysicians to perform abortion counseling or referrals in family-planning clinics that get federal money.
Final approval by the Food and Drug Administration of RU-486, the abortion-inducing drug regimen.
Pro-choice forces were not happy.
Janet Benshoof, president of the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy in New York, called Mr. Bush’s actions “a malicious affront” to women.
“Thousands of women will die each year from illegal abortion because President Bush, who lost the popular vote, needs to curry favor with the religious right,” she said.
Members of the Republican Pro-Choice Coalition said yesterday that they were “stunned” that one of President Bush’s first executive orders was to reinstate what pro-choice forces call “the global gag rule.”
“This restriction on foreign aid is unconscionable in a democracy. It’s bad politics and bad policy,” said co-chairman Susan Cullman.
But Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, called the president’s actions “a critical first step” in stopping abortions.
“It is both refreshing and culturally significant that we now have a president and an administration that is dedicated to defending life,” he said.
Family Research Council President Ken Connor called Mr. Bush’s order “a welcome indicator he intends to stick to his pro-life campaign promise.”
“The first step toward building a culture of life is to stop exporting the culture of death,” he said.
Mr. Bush’s decision was announced by Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, to an enthusiastic crowd of up to 100,000 pro-life demonstrators who had gathered on the Ellipse for the 28th annual March for Life down Constitution Avenue to Capitol Hill.
Mr. Bush issued a statement that was read to the crowd by Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican.
“I deeply appreciate your message and your work,” Mr. Bush said.
“We share a great goal: to work toward a day when every child is welcomed in life and protected in law. We know this will not come easily, or all at once. But the goal leads us onward: to build a culture of life, affirming that every person, at every stage and season of life, is created equal in God’s image.”
Mr. Bush said the promises in the Declaration of Independence “are not just for the strong, the independent, or the healthy.”
“They are for everyone including unborn children,” he said.