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NATIONAL POLITICS & POLICY | Obama Issues Statement on Roe Anniversary; Antiabortion Advocates Hold Protests

NATIONAL POLITICS & POLICY | Obama Issues Statement on Roe Anniversary; Antiabortion Advocates Hold Protests
[Jan. 23, 2009]

President Obama in a statement issued on Thursday reaffirmed his support for Roe v. Wade and his intention to reverse the "global gag" rule -- also known as the "Mexico City" policy -- but did not reverse the policy on the anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision, the Wall Street Journal reports (Meckler, Wall Street Journal, 1/23). Obama in the statement said that "we are reminded that [Roe] not only protects women's health and reproductive freedom, but stands for a broader principle: that government should not intrude on our most private family matters" (Meyerson, Los Angeles Times, 1/23). The statement also said, "While [abortion] is a sensitive and often divisive issue, no matter what our views, we are united in our determination to prevent unintended pregnancies, reduce the need for abortion, and support women and families in the choices they make. To accomplish these goals, we must work to find common ground to expand access to affordable contraception, accurate health information and preventative services."

According to the Journal, sources close to Obama said he hoped to separate the issue of family planning funding from emotions surrounding the Roe anniversary by delaying the reversal of the "global gag" rule, which bans federal funding for international family planning groups that with their own funds provide abortion services and information. Former Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush both used the anniversary of Roe to change U.S. policies regarding abortion and family planning, the Journal reports, adding that Obama is expected to make the reversal soon (Wall Street Journal, 1/23).

According to the New York Times' "The Caucus," Obama's decision to reverse the policy has abortion-rights opponents "worried." Wanda Franz, president of National Right to Life, said that Obama would pursue a "radical agenda" and that the number of abortions would "increase dramatically" during his administration (Falcone, "The Caucus," New York Times, 1/22). Abortion-rights opponent Charmaine Yoest -- president of Americans United for Life -- said the policy reversal would lead to U.S. tax dollars funding abortion and called the delay a "politically savvy move."

The Journal reports that many abortion-rights supporters and advocates for Obama's "common ground" approach to the issue voiced their support. The Rev. Joel Hunter, the pastor of Northland Church who has tried to expand the evangelical abortion agenda, said he "appreciate[s]" Obama's "sensitivity to this day and this issue." He added that to change the policy "on a day that pro-life people see as a day of grief, and as a day of a really hurtful decision, would be, I think, very insensitive." Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation for America, said she is not concerned about when Obama changes the Mexico City policy, just that he does (Wall Street Journal, 1/23). Nancy Northup of the legal advocacy group Center for Reproductive Rights said that Obama "has demonstrated that he's a strong supporter of reproductive rights and that he understands that the mere recognition of those rights isn't enough -- we must also ensure access in order to improve the lives and health of women" (Stone, USA Today, 1/22).

According to the Washington Post, Obama's statement was issued the same day as the annual March for Life protest in Washington, D.C., which included rallies on the National Mall, at the Supreme Court and a prayer service at the Verizon Center. Obama was invited to speak at the rally, according to a letter on the group's Web site; however, the Post reports there was "no indication" he would have addressed the group (Wilgoren et al., Washington Post, 1/22). The protest has occurred annually since 1974 to commemorate the Roe decision, the Los Angeles Times reports. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) -- who attended the rally on the National Mall -- said, "We may have lost an election, but we have not lost the war. We will continue to fight for life, no matter how long it takes, no matter how many marches it takes" (Los Angeles Times, 1/23).

Leaders of the antiabortion movement "sensed a new intensity" at the event because of Obama's election and the new Democratic majority in Congress, the Post reports. Deirdre McQuade, spokesperson for Pro-Life Activities at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the group is "concerned" the changes in party control could lead to "something as extreme as the Freedom of Choice Act [being] proposed again" (Boorstein et al., Washington Post, 1/23). According to the Post, FOCA was expected to be a "key rallying point" at the event, despite reports that the bill does not have enough support to pass legislative committees.

In addition, abortion opponents who have begun advocating for programs to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies rather than abortion bans represented a "relatively new current in the abortion debate" at the event, the Post reports. Groups such as Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and Democrats for Life of America were at the event advocating for funding to programs that provide prenatal health care, help keep pregnant women in school and assist in child care after birth. James Salt of Catholics United said that abortion has become a "political issue versus a moral issue" and that the group's "biggest interest is to add to the debate a more results-based approach to ending abortion." He added, "We feel the conversation has been solely focused on the legal-illegal issue and has missed an important opportunity to pursue common sense solutions" (Washington Post, 1/22).


~ NPR's "All Things Considered": The program on Thursday reported on the Mexico City policy. The segment includes comments from Susan Cohen, director of government affairs at the Guttmacher Institute; Tom McClusky, vice president of government affairs at the Family Research Council; and the coordinator of a family planning clinic in Ethiopia (Wilson, "All Things Considered," NPR, 1/22).

~ NPR's "All Things Considered": The program on Thursday included a discussion with Republican strategist Rich Galen about how Democratic leadership in Congress and the White House could affect the abortion issue (Norris, "All Things Considered," NPR, 1/22).

~ WBUR's "Here & Now": The program on Thursday included a discussion with abortion provider Susan Wicklund, author of the book "This Common Secret: My Journey as an Abortion Doctor" (Young, "Here & Now," WBUR, 1/22).