WASHINGTON, Jan. 22 (AP) -- President Bush has decided to block U.S. funds to international family-planning groups that offer abortion and abortion counseling, a White House official said Monday.

The action, which reverses a Clinton administration stance, will be among the first policy moves of the new Republican administration and was leaked on the same day that abortion opponents staged their annual march on Washington to commemorate the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision.

``The president does not support using taxpayer funds to provide abortions,'' press secretary Ari Fleischer said, refusing to speculate on when the decision will be made official.

``It's an important issue,'' Fleischer told reporters. ``Executive orders are possible at any time.''

But a White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that the decision has been made and the executive order will be issued soon.

U.S. funds to international groups that support abortion had been blocked by former Presidents Reagan and Bush, in what became known as the Mexico City policy because it was announced by Reagan at a 1984 population conference there. President Clinton, an abortion-rights supporter, had restored funding two days after he became president in 1993.

The Bush decision underscores the changed political ground in Washington, which has energized abortion foes, who turned out by the thousands Monday for the annual March for Life demonstration on the 28th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion in the United States.

Bush aides said the president would deliver a written statement to March for Life participants, which would be read, Fleischer said, by Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J.

Asked why Bush wasn't delivering the statement himself, either in person or by telephone, Fleischer said Bush chose the manner in which to deliver his message and it ``signifies that he has an important statement to make.''

The politically and emotionally charged issue of abortion promised to test Bush's ability to deliver on his oft-repeated promise to unite Democrats and Republicans.

Since the election was decided, Bush has answered questions on the issue with a relatively tepid reminder: ``As you know, I campaigned as a pro-life candidate.''

In addition to the overseas abortion funding, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card served notice Sunday that the recently approved ``morning after'' abortion pill is also up for review.

The change at the White House has advocates of abortion choice on the defensive.

``Certainly we can't count on the White House now,'' said Patricia Ireland, president of the National Organization for Women. ``And we may not be able to count on the court even now - but for sure if one more nominee gets through that's anything like the Ashcroft model.''

As a Republican senator from Missouri, religious conservative John Ashcroft, Bush's choice for attorney general, proposed a constitutional amendment that would outlaw nearly all abortions, including in cases of rape and incest. He also opposes most forms of contraception.

Republicans also control Congress now, and Bush could appoint one or more Supreme Court justices. Just one appointment could tip the balance - with many decisions now being made on 5-4 votes. Any nominee, however, would have to be approved by a Senate divided 50-50 along party lines.

``It's like a shot across the bow - a warning of things to come that could impact long past Bush's term, even if he's a two-term president,'' Ireland said.

First lady Laura Bush broke from her husband's views last week and said she did not think the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling should be overturned. But that gives little comfort to abortion rights supporters.

Regardless of what his wife thinks, ``Bush has signaled that he is going to act on his personal convictions that a woman should not have the right to choose,'' said Gloria Feldt, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Abortion opponents are more upbeat than they have been in years. They include Norma McCorvey, the ``Jane Roe'' of Roe v. Wade who now runs Dallas-based Roe No More Ministry, a speakers' referral service for the anti-abortion cause.

``I think the majority of pro-lifers are really looking forward to President Bush getting into office,'' McCorvey said. ``I think we all have the same dream: We'd like to see Roe v. Wade overturned.''

Abortion opponents think it's just a matter of time before abortion is outlawed again. ``I think pro-life people - and I think that's a majority in the country - certainly feel better now,'' said David O'Steen, executive director of National Right to Life.

McCorvey, meanwhile, dismissed Ashcroft's statement at his Senate confirmation hearing that he would not try to make abortion illegal.

``I would like to think that John didn't really mean that,'' she said.

But neither side is taking anything for granted. Americans in general remain split on abortion. An exit poll in the presidential election found more voters favored keeping abortion legal, 55 percent to 42 percent. But only 20 percent thought it should be legal in all cases and 35 percent said it should be legal in most cases.

Outlawing abortion after nearly three decades won't be easy.

The fight isn't solely about Roe v. Wade anymore, said Laura Woliver, a political scientist and associate director of women's studies at the University of South Carolina. Abortion access can be eroded in other ways - through regulation or by giving states more power, she noted.

As attorney general, Ashcroft would decide how to enforce such laws as the Freedom of Access to Clinics Entrances law that seeks to ensure that patients and employees can come and go safely, Woliver said.

Bush supports tightening standards for doctors administering the newly approved abortion pill RU-486, and has said he would sign legislation banning the late-term abortion procedure critics call ``partial-birth abortion'' that Clinton has vetoed. Bush also opposes federally funded research using stem cells from discarded human embryos.

more from beliefnet and our partners
Close Ad