President Barack Obama overturned an eight-year ban on US government funding for family planning organisations which carry out or facilitate abortions overseas, a White House official said.
Obama signed an executive order cancelling the restrictions, on the third full day of his presidency, spokesman Bill Burton said yesterday.
With the restrictions lifted, more "healthcare entitities can receive US funds for family planning and reach a bigger pool of women," Tait Sye, a spokesman for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) told AFP.
The so-called "global gag rule" cut off US funding to overseas family planning clinics which provide any abortion services whatsoever, from the operation itself to counselling, referrals or post-abortion services.
First introduced by Republican president Ronald Reagan in 1984, it has been repeatedly overturned by Democratic administrations and then reintroduced by the Republicans.
Obama's action overturned the orders of president George W Bush, who when he came into office in 2001 immediately froze funds to many family planning groups working overseas.
Anti-abortion and anti-conservative groups had previously condemned Obama for the move, but liberal groups welcomed the decision.
According to Population Action International (PAI), the gag rule resulted in funds being cut off to family planning clinics in 29 countries, including Lesotho, a tiny southern African country which has been ravaged by AIDS.