Proposed bill to overturn abortion policy

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    By Jeffrey Chandler

    Still seething from the Bush administration”s policy to deny federal aid to international groups that support abortion, democratic members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, along with two Republican senators, passed a bill to overturn the administration”s ban, according to the Associated Press.

    By a vote of 12-7 the bill passed the committee. Senators Gordon Smith of Oregon and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island crossed party lines, the only Republicans to vote for the bill.

    “This is a step forward in our fight to end this policy, which is resulting in more back-alley abortions and less family planning around the world,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, the measure”s sponsor.

    The policy bars U.S. aid to international groups that use their own money to support abortion through performing the surgery, counseling about it as a family planning option or lobbying foreign governments on abortion policy.

    Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, has always supported the administration policy, which is to ban aid to organizations that support abortion, said an aide to the senator.

    “U.S. federal government shouldn”t be in position where it”s internationalizing its own debate over abortion,” Sen. Hatch”s aide said.

    However, other Utahns disagreed, saying the rule was hurting women and families worldwide.

    “We think the global “gag” rule is anti-family planning. Family-planning not only saves lives, it prevents the need for abortion,” said Bev Cooper, director for Utahns for Choice, a non-profit, non-partisan organization serving the reproductive health care interests of women and families in Utah through information, advocacy and electoral politics.

    The global “gag” rule, also known as the Mexico City Policy, would prevent any international organization that provides family planning and abortion from receiving any funds, Cooper said.

    President Reagan”s administration first implemented the policy in 1984. It was later rescinded in 1993 by the Clinton administration and reinstated by President George W. Bush immediately after he took office.

    “We”re gonna take a huge step backwards in unintended pregnancies on an international basis from countries that previously received this money,” she said.

    Cooper said it is unfair for the U.S. government to make foreign organizations unable to exercise free speech in the United States. The bill does not affect funding to American family-planning organizations.

    The global “gag” rule denies U.S. family planning funding to any foreign non governmental organization (NGO) that uses any of its own private, non-U.S. dollars to provide advice and information, including counseling and referral for abortion services, according to Utahns for Choice in a letter sent to the Universe.

    The rule also prohibits funding for any NGO that participates in a public debate to defend or change its own country”s abortion laws, conducts a public information campaign regarding the availability of abortion, or provides legal abortion services.

    The House of Representatives has already voted to preserve Bush”s policy, so Senate Democrats face an uphill battle to reverse the rule.

    GOP leaders have accused foreign organizations of shifting money around to pay for abortion efforts.

    Since the 1973 Roe vs. Wade ruling, which legalized abortion, there has been no documented case of a violation of this policy, Cooper said. She added that the policy doesn”t halt abortion by what she calls “financial blackmail,” but only makes it more dangerous.

    Democrats have said the measure, which they call a global gag rule, isn”t needed since a 1973 law already prevents foreign organizations from using U.S.-provided money to finance abortions.

    They said the bill violates free speech rights, while causing scores of international family planning organizations to lose money needed for Pap smears and HIV testing.

    While the Boxer bill would reverse the Mexico City Policy, it would not change the prohibition on U.S. funds being used to provide abortions, confirmed an aide in the senator”s Washington office. That prohibition has been law since 1973.

    “The President”s gag rule is not stopping one single abortion. Instead, it is increasing the number of deaths by denying poor women access to care,” Boxer said. “My bill would right this wrong by lifting this anti-democratic gag rule, and I look forward to pushing for its passage on the Senate floor.”

    Sen. Hatch would have voted against the Boxer bill, because he is strongly against hard-working tax payers supporting something he does not support, his congressional aide said.

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