Pro-life leaders reacted critically to President Barack Obama’s Friday reversal of President George W. Bush’s ban on federal funding for international groups that promote or perform abortions. One Latin American commentator charged that the policy weakens anti-poverty efforts and had enabled a coercive sterilization campaign in Peru under the Clinton administration.

The ban, known as the Mexico City Policy, earned its name from a population conference that took place in the Mexican capital in 1984, where it was introduced by President Ronald Reagan. It was reversed by President Bill Clinton in 1993 and then reinstated by President Bush in 2001.

Controversy particularly focuses upon the mission of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), where an estimated $461 million at stake.

Critics supportive of abortion have characterized the Mexico City Policy as a “gag rule.”

"Women's health has been severely impacted by the cutoff of assistance,” argued Tod Preston, a spokesman for the advocacy group Population Action International, according to Fox News. “President Obama's actions will help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies, abortions and women dying from high-risk pregnancies because they don't have access to family planning."

Pro-life advocates were critical of the policy reversal.

Carlos Polo, a Peruvian who is Director for Latin America of the Population Research Council, asked “Where is Obama’s promise to fight poverty in order to reduce the number of abortions?”

He predicted the consequences of the new policy, telling CNA:

“The money that USAID has been distributing to fight poverty, relief hunger and droughts, will end up in the pockets of feminist and pro-abortion organizations to push the legalization of abortion in our countries.”  

“The hard-earned American tax payers’ money will be diverted from poor children and women to the fat salaries of feminist leaders. 

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“This is not a potential scenario; it is exactly what happened in South America during the Clinton administration, when he reversed the Mexico City policy.  

“In Peru during those years, USAID financed the most brutal, compulsory campaign of sterilizations, with the open support of feminist, pro-abortion organizations, despite the fact that poor, peasant women were the victims of the campaign.”

Polo reported that international outcry forced USAID to end its funding of then-President Alberto Fujimori’s sterilization campaign.

“But by then, thousands of women, most of them in their late teens and early 20s had been sterilized, and several died as a consequence of the procedure.”

The reversal of the Mexico city policy, Polo said, “clearly demonstrates that President Obama is not interested in fighting poverty to reduce abortions, and that there is no possible common ground with those who want to fight for the right to life.

“President Obama has chosen to do exactly the opposite in the poorest countries: increase abortions and reduce help for the poorest.”

Fr. Thomas Euteneur of Human Life International told CNA the change of policy was “expected.”

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“It is standard operating procedure for people who are adamant promoters of the culture of death and seek to impose the culture of death on the rest of the world through our tax dollars.

“It is both very harmful and dangerous,” he added.

According to Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president’s action signals the beginning of the “abortion bailout.”

“Abortions here in the U.S. are at their lowest number in years -- so it's unfortunate that President Obama is poised to make subsidizing abortion abroad one of his first priorities,” she remarked in a statement. 

Austin Ruse, director of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, also opposed the move, telling CNA:

“One of the abortion questions that is almost unanimous in America is that we do not want federal funds being spent on abortions. By striking down the Mexico City policy, President Obama gives lie to the claim that he wants fewer abortions. In fact, he is the most pro-abortion President in the history of the Republic. Those so-called pro-life Catholics who supported Obama have a lot to answer for.”

Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), characterized the action as the first in an “anticipated series of attacks” on longstanding pro-life policies opposed by President Obama’s “sweeping abortion agenda.”

He suggested that the agenda includes the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits taxpayer funding of abortion.

“President Obama not long ago told the American people that he would support policies to reduce abortions, but today he is effectively guaranteeing more abortions by funding groups that promote abortion as a method of population control," Johnson said.

“Obama's order will predictably result in a redirection of funds to groups such as the International Planned Parenthood Federation, which are ideologically committed to the doctrine that abortion on demand must be universally available as a birth control method,” Johnson further charged.

Stephen Mosher, President of the Population Research Institute, predicted possible political fallout for Obama:

“By signing a series of pro-abortion Executive Orders, President Obama will be perceived as governing from the Left. The die will be cast, and pro-lifers will rally against him from that moment. They will start looking towards 2010 to restore some checks and balances on this man they will rightly perceive as a pro-abortion zealot. 

“Clinton's pollster argued strongly against acting on abortion policy as one of the new administration's first pieces of business, but he went ahead regardless. The debacle of the 1994 House elections for the Democrats began at that moment.”