Just days after his inauguration, President Obama overturned a policy prohibiting the use of U.S. funds for overseas non-governmental organizations providing abortion services, a ban known as the “global gag rule.” The move took place just one day after the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

Formerly, the global gag rule refused funding for overseas non-governmental organizations if they engaged in abortion or abortion related services, such as counseling. Although federal law has long prevented the use of U.S. taxpayer money for organizations providing abortions overseas, the gag rule refused funds for such organizations even if they used their own money to pay for such services.

The policy had affected many organizations abroad that provided health services outside of abortion. Time magazine reports that Planned Parenthood of Zambia lost nearly 25% of its funding due to the global gag rule, which led to a decline in services such as child immunizations and prenatal care. The gag rule has also been blamed for playing a significant role in restricting the distribution of condoms and other contraceptives abroad.

The global gag rule, also known as the “Mexico City Policy,” has served as somewhat of a symbolic representation of party shifts in the U.S. government. First passed by Ronald Reagan in 1984 (and named after the city in which it was introduced), it was overturned by Bill Clinton days after taking office, and reinstated when George W. Bush became president in 2001. Abortion remains one of the most hotly debated issues in American society and one of the clearer divisions between Democratic and Republican parties.

Although President Obama has made far bigger headlines since his historic inauguration with his initial steps towards closing the prison at Guantanamo and tackling the gargantuan task of reviving the staggering U.S. economy, his overturn of the global gag rule is an significant move for overseas NGOs and the promotion of international health standards.

Written by Brianna Lee