The newly elected US President George Bush, has surprised political pundits, by issuing an executive order to block US federal funding to international family-planning organisations which provide or promote abortion.
Although his anti-abortion position has been well known, his prompt decision, made at the end of his first day in office, and chosen to coincide to the day with the 28th anniversary of the Roe v Wade judgement, seems to have far more symbolic weight, than his more low key campaign statements.
The decision itself repositions a ban, originally issued by President Reagan in 1984, which remained intact until President Clinton overturned it in 1992.
In the order, Bush stated: “It is my conviction that taxpayer funds would not be used to pay for abortions or actively promote abortions either here or abroad.”
At stake in the overseas aid budget is about US$425 million, which was to become available to family planning agencies outside the United States on February 15.
Bush also made a statement, which was delivered indirectly to a large pro-life demonstration of several tens of thousands, drawn to Washington to protest Roe v Wade: “We share a great goal … to work toward a day when every child is welcomed in life and protected in law. We know it will not come easily, or all at once.”
Several days after the order was made, Vice President Dick Cheney said in a Meet the Press interview, “Both of us [Bush and Cheney] are strong supporters of the pro-life position … and the President’s made it very clear the policy of this Administration will be to try to find ways to reduce the incidence of abortion.
“Even if you could not, at this stage, build majority support for the notion of changing Roe v Wade, there are areas out there where I think we can get majority support for, such as banning partial birth abortions … that legislation passed the Congress, was vetoed by President Clinton. I would hope we could go back and redo that.”
Cheney pointed out that abstinence programs, pregnancy counselling and adoption programs were perhaps more effective first steps in reducing abortion than overturning Roe v Wade.
There is also a possibility that the controversial RU 486 (mifepristone) abortion medication, which was given restricted approval for distribution in the US by the US Food and Drug Administration under Clinton, could be withdrawn. Over 100 abortion clinics have begun to distribute the drug, called in the US, Mifeprex.
The new Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tommy G. Thompson, testified during a Senate hearing that he was planning to give closer attention to the safety of the drug.
Over recent weeks, the monolithic family planning and abortion rights network both in the United States and overseas has reacted with statements of public “alarm and concern”.
The European Union’s Comissioner for Employment and Social Affairs, Anna Diamantopoulou, issued a statement to the EU’s “ministers for gender equality” that she “feared Bush’s action may be the signal of things to come. Why is it so easy at a single stroke to put back the achievements in the area of equality of 20 years?”
Such a statement indicates the full agenda behind the push to establish a “European Gender Insitute” through the EU.