It was an expected move by the new president but that didn't make it any less momentous for women's reproductive health. President Obama repealed the "global gag rule" by executive order during his first days in office, freeing American international family planning money from stifling rules first adopted in the Reagan era. The move was easily eclipsed by the pressing economic crisis, but it was an early signal that sensible, science-based policy is back in vogue in Washington.
It is difficult to understate the importance of offering hope to desperately poor women in impoverished countries that they have a safe way to avoid having unwanted children. But soon after taking office in 2001, President Bush made it more difficult to access contraception by reinstating a rule that barred U.S. money from going to any international family planning organization that discussed or performed abortions.
The global gag rule was first established by President Reagan in 1984, lifted by President Clinton and then renewed by Bush. The policy, along with Bush's decision to hold back hundreds of millions of dollars in congressionally approved money for the U.N. Population Fund, has been a disaster for poor women around the world, denying needed funding to health centers that offer women a wide range of reproductive health services and maternal care. Bush's actions inevitably led to greater infant and maternal mortality as well as more unwanted pregnancies and unsafe, illegal abortions.
In revoking the gag rule once again, Obama also promised to work with Congress to restore financial support for the U.N. Population Fund. Under an Obama administration, women's health around the world will not be held hostage to the nonsensical idea of abortion foes that funding comprehensive family planning services results in more abortions. Preventing unintended pregnancy means fewer abortions, and that should be a goal that everyone can embrace.