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Obama at work: Quick rule flips are expected

WASHINGTON — In one of his first acts as president, Barack Obama is planning to lift a rule that prevents federal money from going to international family planning groups that counsel women on abortion or perform the procedure.

Obama's repeal of the abortion aid policy is one of several executive actions he will take soon after his inauguration today, aides and advisers said Monday. He also will rescind a Bush administration policy that has impeded state efforts to provide health insurance to children from low- and middle-income families, aides said.

Opponents of the family planning funding ban said they learned through the U.S. Agency for International Development that preparations are under way to lift the restrictions within a week of the inauguration.

"This is a big victory for women overseas," said Tod Preston of Population Action International, a group that supports increased funding for international family planning. "We know their health has been severely impacted by the cutoff."

Critics say the restrictions — imposed by President Ronald Reagan, removed by President Bill Clinton two days after he took office and then reinstated by President Bush — also limit access to contraceptives and family planning services.

Obama is also considering lifting Bush administration restrictions on federally funded stem cell research.

Some of the policies may take more time to revise because they are in regulations that have already taken effect and have the force of law.

Obama has said, for example, that he objects to a last-minute Bush administration rule that grants sweeping new protections to U.S. health workers who refuse to help perform abortions, dispense contraceptives or provide other care because of their "religious beliefs or moral convictions."

This "provider conscience regulation," published on Dec. 19, takes effect today, the same day as Obama's inauguration. A 1983 Supreme Court decision suggests that the new administration would need to go through a formal rulemaking process, with an opportunity for public comment, if it wanted to revoke this rule.

Seven states and two family planning organizations challenged the rule in lawsuits filed last week in Connecticut. The new administration could try to postpone the effective date of the rule, pending judicial review. But a health care worker who was fired could still try to take advantage of protections offered by the rule.

The policy on health insurance for children was set forth in a letter to state health officials, not in a formal regulation. The policy is at odds with efforts by Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress to expand federal health programs to cover the uninsured.

Obama at work: Quick rule flips are expected 01/19/09 [Last modified: Monday, January 19, 2009 11:11pm]
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