Pro-Choice Senators Defend International Family Planning

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Pro-Choice Senators Defend International Family Planning

Emily Crockett

A group of pro-choice legislators on Thursday helped stop a Senate committee from cutting international family planning funding and reinstating the "global gag rule."

A group of pro-choice legislators on Thursday helped stop a Senate committee from cutting international family planning funding and reinstating the “global gag rule.”

Human rights advocates vigorously oppose the global gag rule, also known as the Mexico City policy, because it harms the health and lives of poor women in developing countries and leads to more unsafe abortions.

The gag rule forbids foreign organizations that take any U.S. funding from using their own money to provide services or even information related to abortion.

The gag rule has not been in effect since President Obama took office, but it could be reinstated at any time by another president since its repeal is not codified into law. The Helms amendment, also opposed by pro-choice advocates, is still in effect. It does not go as far as the gag rule but still prevents the United States from directly funding abortion care abroad.

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The original version of the Senate’s fiscal year 2016 State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (SFOPS) appropriations bill included a provision that would have permanently codified the global gag rule into law; cut international family planning funding by $149 million, about 25 percent; and entirely prohibited any U.S. contribution to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which does not fund abortions but is a leading provider of basic maternal and reproductive health services worldwide.

However, a bipartisan majority on the Senate Appropriations Committee voted 17-13 to accept an amendment proposed by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) that would permanently repeal the gag rule, as well as restore the international family planning funding.

The permanent legislative repeal of the gag rule is based on the Global Democracy Promotion Act, which was reintroduced in the Senate this year by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA).

All of the Appropriations Committee Democrats voted for the amendment along with three Republicans, Sens. Mark Kirk (R-IL), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).

The amendment has the same funding levels and policy provisions that have been in the Senate version of the SFOPS bill for the past five years.

Also identical to the past five years is the harshness with which anti-choice House appropriators have attacked family planning programs. This year’s House version of the SFOPS bill, which the House Appropriations Committee passed, was identical to the initial Senate version in the cuts and restrictions it placed on international family planning.

It’s unlikely that a conference version of the bill will be reached between the House and Senate, particularly since Democrats have vowed to block floor consideration of spending bills until Republicans agree to repeal the severe, across-the-board budget cuts under sequestration.