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Democratic Lawmakers Urge Obama To Clarify Rules on Foreign Aid for Abortion

Democratic Lawmakers Urge Obama To Clarify Rules on Foreign Aid for Abortion

January 4, 2012 — In a recent letter, a dozen House Democrats urged the Obama administration to clarify foreign aid rules to make it explicit that there is no prohibition on funding for information and counseling related to abortion care, or for the procedure itself in certain cases, The Hill's "Healthwatch" reports.

"We are concerned that improper implementation of current foreign-assistance restrictions may be impeding our ability to provide even more effective and life-saving information and services," the letter stated, adding that the lawmakers are particularly "concerned that the Helms Amendment -- which restricts but does not prohibit abortion funding -- is being implemented as though it were an absolute ban."

The lawmakers noted that Republican Presidents Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush permitted the use of foreign aid for abortion care for pregnancies that resulted from rape or incest or threatened the woman's life, even though their foreign aid policies barred abortion "as a method of family planning."

Funding abortion care in cases of rape, incest or life endangerment would "assist women and help fulfill [the Obama administration's] stated goal of U.S. global-health-related foreign assistance: to save lives, reduce suffering, and support the health and dignity of people everywhere," the lawmakers wrote.

Obama Signs Order To Increase Focus on Women's Rights in Foreign Policy Strategy

The letter came after President Obama signed an executive order last month to make inclusion of women and issues affecting women key elements of the nation's foreign policy (Pecquet, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 12/22). The order -- which creates a National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security -- outlines how the administration will increase U.S. support for women in international efforts to prevent and resolve conflicts and in development of war-torn areas (Runningen/Gaouette, Bloomberg/BusinessWeek, 12/19).

A senior administration official said the executive order represents "a change in how the U.S. will approach its diplomatic, military and development-based support to women in areas of conflict -- by ensuring that women's perspectives and considerations of gender are woven into the DNA of how the U.S. approaches peace processes, conflict prevention, the protection of civilians and humanitarian assistance" (Sweet, Chicago Sun-Times, 12/19).

The order also aims to strengthen efforts to fight violence against women and girls, particularly the use of rape as a war weapon, according to Bloomberg/BusinessWeek. The plan calls for the training of soldiers and police "who contribute to a culture of lawlessness, violence and impunity" and for the United Nations to hire more female peacekeepers and better respond to violence against women, including sexual exploitation and human trafficking (Bloomberg/BusinessWeek, 12/19).