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Harry Vassallo | Wednesday, 04 February 2009

Barack vs Benedict

On Friday last week Barack Obama once more reversed US policy on funding to development aid organizations which provide advice or services on abortion in developing countries.
Despite the 1973 US Supreme Court decision Roe vs Wade, which recognised the right to abortion as constitutional right in the US, President Ronald Reagan in 1984 had withheld aid to such organisation. The Reagan ban was reversed by President Clinton and the Clinton reversal was reversed by President Bush. Now President Obama has reversed the Bush decision and reinstated access to US funds for the development aid organizations affected (,8599,1873794,00.html)
With unusual swiftness the Vatican has responded to the most recent change in US policy with a front-page article in Saturday’s L’Osservatore Romano reporting the disappointment of the US Church leaders at the abandonment of the Mexcio City Policy banning such aid.
The seesaw of US policy on this issue may be seen as a legacy of the Roe vs Wade decision which led to the creation of pro-choice and pro-life lobbies on the abortion issue. The judgement itself carries the dissenting opinions of two of the US Supreme Court judges who felt that the majority opinion invented a constitutional right and improvidently and arrogantly implemented the court’s right to make law over and above the heads of the states’ legislatures.
While no President can overrule the US Supreme Court as to the rights of US citizens, Presidents backed by either the pro-choice or pro-life lobbies have felt free to make a policy gesture to their supporting lobby in the matter of development aid. The Obama reversal is only the latest of such policy gestures.
In the case of the US, the ban was less than logical since abortion is legal in all States of the Union and withholding funds from aid agencies who do nothing more than what is legally sanctioned through out the US seems to make no sense.
The EU reacted to the Bush ban on aid in 2002 by assigning €32 million to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) aiming to make up the shortfall after the withdrawal of US funding. The issue had featured in the Maltese EU membership referendum campaign with anti-EU campaigners claiming that on accession Malta would end up indirectly funding abortions in Africa through the EU funding programme supporting the UN agency.
Unlike the US, Malta has no Roe vs Wade judgment and abortion is clearly a crime under the Maltese Criminal Code; consequently Malta’s indirect funding of family planning clinics providing abortion advice and services in Africa has been a parallel in the opposite direction of the US ban on aid to the same programmes.
While Barack Obama’s reversal of US policy restores coherence between US domestic law and foreign aid policy, no such change is expected in the Maltese position which is coherent only with the general policy ambivalence on the issue which maintains a strict prohibition in criminal law in the clear knowledge that abortion is effectively exported to third countries, notably Italy and the UK.
In spite of the dissonance with Catholic doctrine on the EU funding aspect, no dressing down from the Vatican is expected in Malta.
While the abortion rate arising from Maltese pregnancies is estimated to be in excess of the EU average, this is arrived at from partial statistics provided by the UK alone.
It is impossible to discern trends as to the incidence of abortion and to provide effective abortion counselling whether before or after it takes place.


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