Obama Surprises the Culture Warriors

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Today is January 22–also known as the anniversary of Roe v. Wade or the March for Life Day, depending on your ideological tilt. Which must mean it’s the day the incoming president signs an executive order dealing with the Mexico City policy, a ban on federal money to NGOs that provide abortions abroad, and does away with any goodwill that accompanied his inauguration by igniting the culture wars on his second day in office. Right?

Um, wrong, actually. The Reagan-era policy was one of the first things Bill Clinton addressed after taking office, issuing an executive order on January 22, 1993 overturning the ban. And on January 22, 2001, George W. Bush issued an executive order overturning the ban on the ban.

But today, instead of overturning the ban on the ban on the ban, as expected, President Obama chose to stand-down. Instead he issued a statement reaffirming his support for a woman’s right to choose, but also appealing–as he has in the past–for common ground approaches to abortion policy:

We are united in our determination to prevent unintended pregnancies, reduce the need for abortion, and support women and families in the choices they make. To accomplish these goals, we must work to find common ground to expand access to affordable contraception, accurate health information, and preventative services.

Everyone knows he still plans on repealing the ban. But it was an interesting and important decision not to make that move on such a politically-charged day. Clinton entered the White House having tempered the skepticism of many pro-life voters with his insistence that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare.” His decision to make repealing the Mexico City ban one of his very first acts in office led many to wonder if the slogan was just that–a slogan. I suspect that when Obama does issue the executive order regarding the Mexico City policy, it will be followed by concrete action to support abortion reduction.

By the way, while Obama was busy not ramping up the culture wars, House Republicans spent the day collecting 105 signatures on a letter they sent to Obama demanding he withdraw his 2007 pledge to sign the Freedom of Choice Act–legislation that he will not be signing because Democrats don’t plan to bring it up for a vote in Congress and it’s not even on the list of top ten priorities the abortion rights community sent the new president. Not that you’d know it from listening to conservative radio or the Catholic bishops…but more on that in a future post.