Democrats Take Aim at Trump’s Global Gag Rule in Bill to Reopen the Federal Government

A spokesperson for Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) said the lawmaker would also introduce legislation to undo the global gag rule in the coming weeks.

[Photo: Various people ranging in age, size, skin tone and ability gather in front of the White House protesting against Trump's Global Gag Rule.]
Included among the roughly 1,000 pages of text of the spending bill Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives passed last week to re-open the federal government was language to repeal parts of the Trump administration’s “global gag rule.” Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Included among the roughly 1,000 pages of text of the spending bill Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives passed last week to re-open the federal government was language to repeal parts of the Trump administration’s “global gag rule.”

Like Republican presidents before him, President Donald Trump immediately upon taking office reinstated the anti-choice restriction also known as the “Mexico City Policy,” which prohibits foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) receiving U.S. family planning aid from providing abortion care or information about it. Trump’s version of the policy, however, expanded the policy to organizations receiving any U.S. foreign aid.

The language in House Democrats’ Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2019, sponsored by House Appropriations Chair Nita Lowey (D-NY),“would get rid of the ban on funding to organizations that merely promote abortion,” as BuzzFeed News’ Ema O’Connor first reported. It would ensure that “a foreign nongovernmental organization … shall not be ineligible for assistance appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act solely on the basis of health or medical services, including counseling and referral services.” The measure passed late on Thursday by a 241-190 vote, with all Democrats and seven Republicans voting in favor.

With little likelihood that Lowey’s original spending bill will make it through the Republican-majority U.S. Senate or the White House, Democrats are instead aiming to pass a series of shorter appropriations bills that fund individual agencies. Lowey on Sunday released text for four of those bills, and a spokesperson for her office told Rewire.News on Tuesday that a bill covering State and Foreign Operations—where the global gag rule-related language would be found—“is not among the individual bills that will be considered in the House this week.”

“Congresswoman Lowey will absolutely continue to fight for a permanent repeal of the Global Gag Rule, and will introduce legislation to do just that—the Global Health, Empowerment, and Rights (HER) Act—in the next few weeks,” the spokesperson said.

Anti-choice groups sounded the alarms on the language in Democrats’ initial spending bill, lambasting its inclusion as indicative of the new House majority’s priorities. Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a statement that newly elected Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) “first act as Speaker leaves no doubt about House Democrats’ senseless priorities for the next two years.”

The pro-choice language was also met with opposition from the Trump administration. The Executive Office of the President at the Office of Management and Budget—which works to implement the president’s objectives—in a statement of administration policy released last Thursday indicated that it would advise Trump to veto this version of the bill to reopen the government. The office’s explanation cited the language to repeal portions of the global gag rule among its reasons for doing so, claiming it “would undermine” the anti-choice restriction on NGO funding.

Amanda Thayer, a spokesperson for NARAL Pro-Choice America, said in a statement to Rewire.News that the administration’s reaction to the bill’s language came as no surprise. “As hundreds of thousands of Americans go without paychecks and the fate of millions of aspiring citizens, including asylum seekers, hangs in the balance, the Trump administration remains hellbent on ripping away women’s rights and playing politics with people’s lives in an effort to throw a bone to their base and stoke the fires of a xenophobic and anti-choice agenda,” Thayer wrote. “The hypocrisy of the so-called ‘pro-life’ party is abounding and lacks any drop of compassion for the lives and well-being of people being impacted by these policies.” 

A spokesperson for Lowey’s office noted in an email to Rewire.News that the language related to the global gag rule “was the same as that in the Senate bill that unanimously passed the Senate Committee on Appropriations.” As O’Connor explained in her report:

The language was a small part of the Senate’s 2019 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill, which never made it to a full Senate vote, but would have funded the State Department and related programs through September of this year. A Democratic aide with knowledge of the negotiations told BuzzFeed News that the specific language pertaining to the Mexico City Policy in that bill was adopted without a vote. The policy had the support of Democrats as well as Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, who have been known to vote against their party on abortion legislation and wanted to “lessen the effects” of Trump’s policy.

Lowey has long championed the rollback of Trump’s global gag rule. She introduced a previous version of the Global Health, Empowerment, and Rights (HER) Act last December, and in July introduced an amendment to strike the anti-choice restriction from the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill under consideration at the time.

Trump“isn’t putting ‘America First’ by preventing capable partners around the world from providing comprehensive health care to vulnerable women,” Lowey said during a press conference announcing her legislation last year.