President Donald Trump on Monday signed a decree barring US federal funding for foreign NGOs that support abortion, relaunching a battle that has long divided Americans.
"The president, it's no secret, has made it very clear he's a pro-life president. He wants to stand up for all Americans, including the unborn," White House spokesman Sean Spicer said.
"The reinstatement of this policy is not just something that echoes that value, but respects taxpayer funding as well."
The restrictions prohibit foreign non-governmental organizations that receive US family planning assistance from using non-US funding to provide abortion services, information, counseling or referrals.
They are also barred from engaging in advocacy to promote abortion.
The move comes just two days after women led a massive protest march in Washington -- with satellite rallies across the country and around the world -- to defend their rights, including to abortion.
And it also comes a day after the 44th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark US Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in 1973.
- 'Women will suffer' -
Trump's move deepened concern among already apprehensive US family planning and women's rights organizations.
"The world's most vulnerable women will suffer as a direct result of this policy, which undermines years of effort to improve women's health," said Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards.
"This will cause clinic closures around the world -- resulting in more unintended pregnancy and unsafe abortion, not less."
She vowed her group, the biggest US provider of family planning, will "never stop fighting" for access to reproductive health services.
Trump's executive order is a "clear assault on both access to health care and free speech," the American Civil Liberties Union said.
Stenny Hoyer, a Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, sharply criticized Trump for using his first week in office "to attack women's health."
"It should be no surprise to the millions of women and men who gathered in protest this weekend across the country –- and around the world –- that Republicans are focused more on making it harder for women to access health care than on the serious economic and security challenges we face," he said.
- Anti-abortion forces -
Meanwhile, anti-abortion activists cheered the move.
"Recognizing and affirming the universal ideal that all human beings have inherent worth & dignity, is vital to making America great again," tweeted Family Research Council leader Tony Perkins, reprising Trump's campaign slogan.
The restrictions were first put in place in 1984 by Republican president Ronald Reagan.
Later eliminated by Democratic president Bill Clinton, they were reinstalled by his Republican successor George W. Bush, and annulled again after Barack Obama took office.
Galvanized by Trump's November 8 election, abortion opponents in states where Republicans hold power moved swiftly last month to adopt draconian anti-abortion measures that in some cases pose challenges to constitutional liberties.
And the new president has surrounded himself with senior officials openly hostile to abortion rights.
While signing the executive order, he was surrounded by a dozen men, including Vice President Mike Pence, who has long sought to dry up federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
Trump, meanwhile, has pledged to nominate an anti-abortion justice to the Supreme Court, which could lead to overturning Roe v. Wade.
Washington, United States | AFP