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Senate Committee Votes Against Administration on Anti-Abortion Global Gag Rule

The surprise move is a direct repudiation of Trump’s approach to foreign aid and reproductive rights.

<> on May 20, 2013 in Washington, DC.
<> on May 20, 2013 in Washington, DC.

In a vote that marks a rejection of the Trump administration’s foreign aid budget and approach to family planning policy abroad, the Senate Appropriations Committee moved Thursday to reinstate funding for the United Nations Population Fund and overturn the global gag rule, a longstanding Republican policy that forbids U.S. support for international health organizations that offer or discuss abortion services.

The Mexico City Policy, the formal name of the global gag rule, was put into effect during the Reagan administration, has existed under every Republican administration since. Under President Donald Trump, it is more sweeping, denying funding for family planning, nutrition, child health, and certain illnesses to aid organizations that refuse to comply.

Previous Republican administrations only denied organizations family planning funds.

In a vote that marks a rejection of the Trump administration’s foreign aid budget and approach to family planning policy abroad, the Senate Appropriations Committee moved Thursday to reinstate funding for the United Nations Population Fund and overturn the global gag rule, a longstanding Republican policy that forbids U.S. support for international health organizations that offer or discuss abortion services.

The Mexico City Policy, the formal name of the global gag rule, was put into effect during the Reagan administration, has existed under every Republican administration since. Under President Donald Trump, it is more sweeping, denying funding for family planning, nutrition, child health, and certain illnesses to aid organizations that refuse to comply.

Previous Republican administrations only denied organizations family planning funds.

Separately, in April, the State Department announced plans to end support for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), to which the United States is the second largest donor. The State Department cited allegations that the family planning arm of the U.N. participated in forced sterilization in China, something the international body called “erroneous.”  

Both of these policy moves came under fire as the appropriations committee was deliberating the Foreign Operations Funding Bill. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) proposed an amendment that would overturn the president’s version of the Mexico City Policy, and limit any future president’s power to reinstate it, while also restoring U.S. contributions to UNFPA. The amendment narrowly passed 16-15 with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) voting against it, while Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Ark.) voted for it.

Collins and Murkowski have both vocally opposed Trump’s decision to reinstate the Mexico City Policy since the president signed the executive order shortly after entering office.  

In a statement, Shaheen praised the bipartisan passage of the amendment, saying it would “preserve and restore funding levels for international organizations that help to prevent over 50 million unintended pregnancies around the world, and reduce the number of maternal deaths we see from those accessing unsafe abortions when the lack of family planning leaves them without options.”

Family planning activists also applauded the move. “By voting to overturn the Global Gag Rule, the Senate Appropriations Committee is sending a strong message that the lives of the girls, women, and families who rely on reproductive health care matter here and abroad,” said Brian Dixon, senior vice president of the Population Connection Action Fund, in a statement.

But Dixon remained realistic. While the committee has made its decision, “at some point it has to be passed by the full Senate,” he told Foreign Policy. “It’s hard to know what they’re going to do.”

Still, Dixon was cautiously hopeful. “I’m not telling you it’s going to become law in the next three months,” he said, “but it’s crucial to making whatever comes out in any final agreement better than what it would otherwise be.”

Photo credit: CHIP SOMODEVILLA/Getty Images

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