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Antiabortion-Rights Groups Decry 'Global Gag Rule' Provision in Senate Spending Bill

Antiabortion-Rights Groups Decry 'Global Gag Rule' Provision in Senate Spending Bill

October 19, 2009 — A provision in the Senate version of the fiscal year 2010 Department of State and foreign affairs spending bill (S 1434) that would permanently repeal the "global gag rule" is drawing fire from antiabortion-rights groups, CQ Today reports. The global gag rule, also known as the "Mexico City" policy, prohibited U.S. foreign aid funding for international family planning groups that offer abortion services or information with non-U.S. funds. The policy was first put in place by President Reagan; it was lifted by President Clinton and reinstated by President George W. Bush. President Obama lifted the policy in January shortly after taking office.

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the provision in July. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), who proposed the amendment, said it would end instability foreign aid recipients face whenever the presidency shifts between Republicans and Democrats. "Health care providers across the globe should be able to care for the health of women and families without ideological obstacles blocking the way," Lautenberg said.

Family planning advocates have long said the global gag rule restricts health care services and the work of social services groups in the developing world. Laura MacCleery, government relations director for the Center for Reproductive Rights, said, "The flip-flopping of our international reproductive health politics creates uncertainty and confusion for the partners of the U.S. government, and it leaves the global health needs of women up to shifts in political whims."

Antiabortion-rights groups argue that it is "inappropriate" to include Lautenberg's amendment in a spending bill, saying it would restrict the White House's authority to determine conditions on foreign aid, according to CQ Today. Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee, said, "If the [Senate] leadership want to use this as a vehicle to make a permanent change in the president's authority and foreign policy, there are senators that are going to have a lot of other ideas," adding that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) "should plan on spending a couple of weeks on this."

The House bill (HR 3081) does not alter restrictions in abortion-related funding overseas. It does increase funding to family planning programs that are no longer restricted by the global gag rule, CQ Today reports. The House version passed 318-106 in July. Johnson said NRLC did not oppose the House bill because it left the door open for future presidents to reinstate the policy. Abortion-rights advocates say that including the language in the House bill "would have been much riskier" than in the Senate, where more lawmakers support repealing the global gag rule, CQ Today reports (Webber, CQ Today, 10/16).