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House Foreign Affairs Committee votes to reinstate abortion gag rule

House Foreign Affairs Committee votes to reinstate abortion gag rule

On the second day of its marathon markup session, the House Foreign Affairs Committee voted to reinstate and expand a wide-ranging ban on funding international non-governmental organizations that discuss abortion known as the Mexico City Policy.

Following a contentious day of debate Wednesday on Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s fiscal 2012 State Department and foreign operations authorization bill, the committee finally adjourned at 2 a.m. Thursday morning and then returned at 9 a.m. to resume work on the legislation. One of their first orders of business was to vote on an amendment by ranking Democrat Howard Berman to strip language that would ban any funding for groups that counsel women on family planning options from the bill.

The language that Berman wanted to strip reads: "None of the funds authorized to be appropriated by this act or any amendment made by this Act may be made available to any foreign nongovernmental organization that promotes or performs abortion, except in cases of rape or incest or when the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term."

The bill’s language is a version of what has been known since 1984 as the Mexico City Policy, named for the city where President Ronald Reagan first announced it. President Bill Clinton rescinded the policy in 1993, President George W. Bush reinstated it in 2001, and President Barack Obama rescinded it again in 2009.  

Republicans have been trying to restore the policy ever since. Last year, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) helped defeat the International Violence Against Women Act by attaching the Mexico City Policy to the bill in committee, thereby preventing the legislation from reaching the Senate floor.

Berman’s amendment failed by a 17-25 vote that played out largely along party lines. Only one Democrat broke ranks, Rep. Ben Chandler (D-KY). The Ros-Lehtinen language is actually an expansion of the policy as it existed during the Bush administration because it would ban all funding for organizations that discuss abortion and not make exceptions for certain programs such as HIV/AIDS funding. Bush made allowances for HIV/AIDS programs to receive funding even within organizations that were affected by the policy.

“The provision included in this bill is far more extreme than the Global Gag Rule policy that was implemented under Presidents Reagan, George Bush, or George W. Bush," said Berman. "It bars ALL assistance to local health care providers in poor countries – including HIV/AIDS funding, water and sanitation, child survival, and education.  In the name of ‘right to life,’ the majority is cutting off funds that are literally saving hundreds of thousands of lives.”

There’s no telling if Ros-Lehtinen’s bill will ever see the House floor, much less become law or be signed by Obama, but the inclusion of the Mexico City Policy signals that the GOP intends to keep the issue alive throughout this year’s cycle of authorization and appropriations bills, until or unless it is reinstated or defeated outright.

"It is a sad day for the millions of women around the world who need and want access to contraception," said Craig Lasher, director of government relations for Population Action International, an international NGO that advocates for women’s access to contraception and reproductive counseling. "Committee members should be ashamed for taking the Republican Party’s war on women to the global stage."