Bush blocks foreign aid for abortion

Order cuts funds for family planning groups overseas

Roe vs. Wade anniversary

President revives a Reagan restriction Clinton had reversed

January 23, 2001|By David L. Greene | David L. Greene,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - In his first major policy act as president, George W. Bush showcased his opposition to abortion yesterday by cutting off U.S. aid to international family planning groups that provide abortion-related services.

Bush's executive order, issued on the 28th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe vs. Wade decision, revives a restriction that existed under Presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush but was reversed by President Clinton.

"It is my conviction that taxpayer funds should not be used to pay for abortions or advocate or to actively promote abortion, either here or abroad," Bush said in his order.

The White House timed the announcement for the benefit of abortion demonstrators, thousands of whom rallied boisterously at the Mall in their annual march to protest the 1973 court ruling that legalized abortion.

Bush's statement, read to the crowd, 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, as every stage and season of life, is created equal in God's image."

Anti-abortion demonstrators, who convened on the muddy grounds of the Washington Monument, said they were pleased by the president's action. With Clinton gone from the White House, some said they hoped that further abortion restrictions would follow.

"We felt like we were hitting our heads against the wall with Clinton," said Kathy Kvalvaag of Ludington, Mich. "Now, we have a voice."

The president's order came eight years after Clinton's restoration of aid to international family planning programs involved in abortion-related activities. Bush's action blocks federal money from going to organizations that use their own money to perform abortions or to promote or lobby for laws allowing them. Federal law restricts taxpayer money from subsidizing abortions overseas.

During his presidential campaign, Bush, wary of upsetting moderate voters who favor abortion rights, seldom addressed abortion issues.

Some abortion-rights advocates said they feared that Bush's action was a signal that his administration would be more active in restricting abortion than they had expected, especially because his move came on the heels of Bush's nomination of a staunch conservative and abortion opponent, John Ashcroft, to be attorney general.

"He clearly is bending to the will of the far right on these issues," said Kate Michelman, president of the National Abortion and Reproduction Rights Action League. "He so quickly shed his facade and his cloak of moderation on this issue."

White House aides described yesterday's act - released in the form of an executive memorandum to the federal agency that funds international family planning groups - as the fulfillment of a campaign pledge. They said Bush would probably soon pursue other measures he discussed, though quietly, during the campaign, such as more abstinence education, laws requiring parental notification of abortions for minors and a ban on a form of late-term abortion.

Attempts to make such late-term abortions illegal failed recently in the Senate, as abortion opponents fell just short of the 67 votes needed to override a veto from Clinton. If Bush would sign the law - as he has pledged - supporters would need only 50 votes to pass such a measure.

Bush has long said that he supports abortion only in cases of rape, incest or when a mother's life is in danger. His spokesman, Ari Fleischer, said yesterday that the administration had no plans to try to overturn Roe vs. Wade but would probably pursue any abortion restrictions they view as "achievable at the outset."

While campaigning, Bush said he would not seek to ban the abortion drug RU-486, recently approved for use in the United States. But his chief of staff, Andrew Card, has hinted that the president might do so. And Bush's choice for secretary of health and human services, Tommy Thompson, said during confirmation hearings that he would consider reviewing the drug to see if there are "safety concerns."

Any limits on the use of RU-486 would be a serious setback for abortion-rights advocates, who had lobbied for a drug that was used for more than a decade by women in Europe before winning approval in the United States.

Bush, asked yesterday whether he would consider trying to restrict medical research that uses fetal tissue, said: "I'll deal with that issue later." Scientists use tissue from stem cells to research, for example, possible cures for Lou Gehrig's disease.

The president's action reimposes a ban enacted by Reagan in 1984 at a population conference in Mexico City and thereafter dubbed the "Mexico City" policy.

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