Johnny Narcoe

Obama Quietly Removes Ban on Giving Federal Money to Int’l Abortion Groups

The Bush policy had banned U.S. taxpayer money, usually in the form of Agency for International Development funds, from going to international family planning groups that either offer abortions or provide information, counseling or referrals about abortion. The rule also had prohibited federal funding for groups that lobby to legalize abortion or promote it as a family planning method.

Both Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who will oversee foreign aid, had promised to do away with the rule during the presidential campaign. Clinton visited the U.S. Agency for International Development on Friday but made no mention of the step.

Obama has spent his first days in office aggressively signing executive orders reversing Bush administration policies on issues ranging from foreign policy to government operations. TV cameras were invited in for Wednesday’s announcements on ethics rules and for Thursday’s signing of orders on closing the Guantanamo Bay prison camp and banning torture in the questioning of terror suspects.

In a move related to the lifting of the abortion rule, Obama also is expected to restore funding to the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), probably in the next budget. Both he and Clinton had pledged to reverse a Bush administration determination that assistance to the organization violated U.S. law.

The Bush administration had barred U.S. money from the fund, contending that its work in China supported a Chinese family planning policy of coercive abortion and involuntary sterilization. UNFPA has vehemently denied that it does.

Organizations that had pressed Obama to make the abortion-ban change were jubilant.

"Women’s health has been severely impacted by the cutoff of assistance. 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," said Tod Preston, a spokesman for Population Action International, an advocacy group.

Anti-abortion groups criticized the move.

"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," said Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee.

Obama also is expected at some point to lift or ease restrictions on federal money for stem cell research, an issue that divides people along similar battle lines, but there was no word about any action on that Friday. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has expressed interest in pressing legislation on stem cells in the first 100 days of the new Congress if the new administration doesn’t act.

Some scientists want broader use of embryonic stem cells than is currently allowed, hoping for new treatments for many diseases. Obtaining stem cells from four- or five-day-old embryos kills the embryos, and many opponents see that as taking life.

Federal Court Upholds Wiretap Law

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Appeals Court released an unclassified version of an August 2008 ruling that seems to validate President George W. Bush’s claim that the government can act without court orders in gathering foreign intelligence.

The Bush administration came under heated criticism three years ago when a National Security Agency’s program for warrantless eavesdropping was revealed. In 2007, Congress passed the Protect America Act, which authorized the executive branch to eavesdrop on international communication without court orders. The ruling released Thursday dealt with that law.

An unnamed telecommunications company challenged the constitutionality of the Protect America Act law last year, but the FISA court ruled that Congress acted within its authority when it passed the law.

When it was originally enacted, the Protect America Act was a temporary measure, granting President Bush the wide range of intelligence gathering tools for six months, to be used for foreign intelligence gathering related to the war on terrorism. After Democrats initially blocked the law’s renewal in early 2008, Congress approved a slightly modified version in June.

While the court released the once-secret opinion, Attorney General-designate Eric Holder was answering questions about the legality of the nation’s controversial warrantless surveillance programs during his Senate confirmation hearing.

"Holder, for his part, pledged to do a ‘damage assessment’ review of this policy and practice on behalf of the Justice Department. The juxtaposition between the two simultaneous events – like two ships crossing in the night – was striking," writes CBS News chief legal analyst Andrew Cohen.

During his time in the Senate, President-elect Barack Obama endorsed the latest version of the current administration’s surveillance policy. That means that Holder now must gingerly evaluate how the warrantless program came about, whether it is working to its fullest extent, whether and to what extent it reaches too far in infringing constitutional privacy rights, and what can be done if it does.

On Thursday morning, Holder was clear in telling the Senate Judiciary Committee that he believes the president has power within Article II of the Constitution (like the power to eavesdrop) that the Congress may not take away, writes Cohen.

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Complaining by Federal Joe

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BankGothic MD BT

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