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(Reuters) Jan 23 - U.S. President Barack Obama lifted restrictions on Friday on U.S. government funding for clinics or groups which provide abortion services or counseling for the procedure overseas. The restrictions have been dubbed the "Global Gag Rule" by critics.
A: Under the rule, no U.S. government funding for family planning services can be given to clinics or groups that offer abortion services or counseling in other countries even if the funds for those activities come from non-U.S. government sources.
It has been called the Mexico City Policy because it was unveiled at a U.N. conference there in 1984 and became one of the centerpiece social policies of the conservative administration of Republican former President Ronald Reagan.
Critics call it the "gag rule" because it also cuts funds to groups which advocate or lobby for the lifting of abortion restrictions, so they say it infringes on free speech.
A: The policy has become a partisan "tit for tat" depending on which party occupies the White House. Support for abortion rights is a central plank of the Democratic Party while abortion rights opponents, many of whom are conservative Christians, comprise a key Republican base.
Former President Bill Clinton rescinded the rule when he took office in January 1993.
George W. Bush reinstated it on Jan 22, 2001, in one of his first policy moves as president, saying: "It is my conviction that taxpayer funds should not be used to pay for abortions or advocate or actively promote abortion, either here or abroad."
A: The United States spends more than $400 million on overseas family planning assistance each year. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) said as of September 2008 it provided family planning assistance to 53 developing countries.
Critics argue that the anti-abortion restrictions have resulted in huge drops for funding worldwide to organizations that provide family-planning services and basic healthcare, leading to back alley abortions and even deaths. They say this means many women are deprived of contraception and other health services in poor countries.
The Center for Reproductive Rights says, for example, that in Ethiopia and Lesotho, some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are no longer able to offer comprehensive and integrated healthcare services to patients suffering from HIV/AIDS.
Abortion rights opponents and groups who support the Mexico City Policy contest the view that it has led to an increase of illegal abortions or deaths overseas.
(Writing by Ed Stoddard, editing by Deborah Charles and Vicki Allen)
Sources: Reuters, The White House, Planned Parenthood, Population Connection, Center for Reproductive Rights, NARAL Pro-Choice America, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, USAID