President Barack Obama signed an executive order Friday ending a ban on U.S. funding for international groups that provide abortion-related services. The decision is sure to re-ignite debate between pro- and anti-abortion activists. But, the decision will come as a relief to some organizations that believe they were unfairly punished under the rule.
The executive order ends the ban on federal funds for international groups that are in any way involved with abortion services, including counseling.
Critics call it the "global gag rule" because it forbids medical providers from even saying the word "abortion," a source of contention for free speech advocates.
Carmen Barroso is director of the International Planned Parenthood Federation western hemisphere. Her organization has received no U.S. money for the past eight years.
She says the "gag" policy has not only adversely affected abortion services, but also the ability for clinics to distribute contraceptives and other preventative information.
"With less money, family planning associations are less able to provide the services to the people who are most vulnerable, who most need it, because they cannot afford to pay for services," she said. "So family planning programs help women to avoid unwanted pregnancies and therefore avoid the need for abortion. So if anybody is against abortion, they should also be against this policy."
The policy has been reinstated and then reversed by Republican and Democratic presidents since President Ronald Reagan established it in 1984. President Bill Clinton ended the ban in 1993, but President George W. Bush re-instituted it in 2001 as one of his first acts in office.
Yet abortion opponents say anything short of overturning legalized abortion is tantamount to compromise, including this funding.
Thousands of anti-abortion activists marched Thursday from the National Mall to the Supreme Court in Washington on the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the court ruling that legalized abortion in the United States. Many protesters expressed concerns over just how much the Obama administration will change course on women's reproductive issues.
"He is a president, he says, of opportunity and hope, and I'd like to give opportunity and hope to the babies who are being aborted, and also new life to the people who are choosing that path of just sadness in their life," one person said.
President Obama says he supports Roe v. Wade, and opposes any amendment to overturn the Supreme Court's decision.
Barroso says, with a growing population of young people in the developing world, she believes the greatest need will be for sexual education in order to help women avoid unwanted pregnancies.