Indeed, this does more than just send a message; by restoring UNFPA funding, Obama is poised to save some lives.
President Obama's decision to repeal the global gag rule ("Mexico City Policy") will make a huge difference in the lives of countless families around the world. With a stroke of a pen, Obama has taken a key step towards advancing international family planning and women's health by reversing rules on U.S. abortion aid.
But let's also note the other important move Obama made on family planning yesterday.
In a related move, Obama also said he would restore funding to the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA). Both he and Clinton had pledged to reverse a Bush administration determination that assistance to the organization violated U.S. law known as the Kemp-Kasten amendment.
Obama, in his statement, said he looked forward to working with
Congress to fulfill that promise: "By resuming funding to UNFPA, the U.S. will be joining 180 other donor nations working collaboratively to reduce poverty, improve the health of women and children, prevent HIV/AIDS and provide family planning assistance to women in 154 countries."
Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, executive director of the U.N. Population Fund,
said: "The president's actions send a strong message about his leadership and his desire to support causes that will promote peace and dignity, equality for women and girls and economic development in the poorest regions of the world."
Indeed, it does more than just send a message; by restoring UNFPA funding, Obama is poised to save some lives.
This never should have been controversial. In Bush's first term, the former president intended to maintain UNFPA funding at Clinton-era levels. Then- Secretary of State Colin Powell told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, "We recognize that UNFPA does invaluable work through its programs in maternal and child health care, voluntary family planning, screening for reproductive tract cancers, breast-feeding promotion and HIV/AIDS prevention." The administration sought the money, and Congress overwhelmingly approved it.
And then, some right-wing activists with the Bush administration's ear, starting complaining bitterly. Since its inception in 1969, the Fund has won widespread recognition for its work in improving the lives of women in developing countries, but for far-right leaders, most notably in the religious right, UNFPA is a pro-abortion enterprise that supports China's one-child policy.
Bush put a hold on the money he'd already requested and received, so he could investigate UNFPA's work in China. When international investigators and a U.S. team found "no evidence that UNFPA has knowingly supported or participated in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization" in China, Bush suppressed the findings and blocked the funding anyway. It's a callous, twisted position he maintained for the rest of his terms in office.
Because of Bush's actions on UNFPA, fewer women in developing countries received pre-natal care, fewer doctors were trained to deal with pregnancy complications, fewer HIV prevention programs could operate, and less medical equipment was made available to expectant mothers.
Obama is going to make this right.