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House rebuffs pro-life overseas policy

WASHINGTON (BP)–The House of Representatives approved legislation June 21 that would undermine a ban on federal funds for organizations that perform or promote abortions in foreign countries.

Representatives defeated an amendment that would have fully restored the pro-life policy, first instituted 23 years ago, before passing the overall spending bill that includes a controversial provision that would, at least, weaken the rule. The House voted 218-205 against the amendment, then 241-178 for the final version of the measure.

Bush reinstated the rule, known as the Mexico City policy, by executive order on his second full day in office in 2001. President Reagan had first established the policy, which was announced at a 1984 conference in Mexico’s capital. When President Clinton took office in 1993, he immediately rescinded the rule.

Under the Mexico City policy, organizations may receive aid through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) if they agree not to perform abortions, to lobby foreign governments to revise their abortion laws and to “promote abortion as a method of family planning.” Abortions are permitted as part of the policy when the mother’s life is endangered or in cases of rape or incest.

Supporters of the pro-life policy were not surprised by the turn of events, given they lost votes in the November election, but they are optimistic the legislation will not become law. The Senate has yet to act on a related spending bill and, more importantly, Bush has promised congressional leaders he will veto any bill that liberalizes laws or policies on abortion.

“Elections have consequences,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “This is a less pro-life House than before the 2006 election, and this was an anti-pro-life vote. It will be a sad day for unborn children around the world if this bill becomes law.

“We hope the Senate will fully reinstate the Mexico City policy,” Land told Baptist Press. “If not, we certainly hope the president will veto the bill.”

Douglas Johnson, the National Right to Life Committee’s legislative director, told BP, “It’s regrettable that the pro-life amendment narrowly failed, but our side demonstrated that the president’s veto, if required, will be comfortably sustained.”

Both houses of Congress must achieve a two-thirds majority in order to override a presidential veto. The House roll call, even on final passage of the bill, was 28 votes short of that goal.

The president told Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in a letter in early May he would veto any measure sent him by the Democratic-controlled Congress that “weakens current Federal policies and laws on abortion, or that encourages the destruction of human life at any stage.” In his letter, Bush cited restrictions on grants to organizations that promote abortion as a family planning method as examples of policies he considers worthy of his protection.

Rep. Nita Lowey, D.-N.Y., chair of the State Department and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, sponsored language in the bill that she described after the June 21 votes as “common-sense family planning to prevent abortions, curb unintended pregnancies, save the lives of mothers and fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic.” An amendment she sponsored, and approved by the House, enables organizations that do not abide by the Mexico City policy to receive contraceptives without reversing their abortion advocacy.

In floor debate, Rep. Chris Smith, R.-N.J., disagreed with Lowey, saying if the United States gives “either cash or in-kind contributions to abortion organizations, we empower and enable the campaign to expand abortion. Instead, we should direct our funds and in-kind assistance, including commodities and contraceptives, to organizations committed only to family planning.”

The Mexico City policy “separates abortion from family planning,” he said.

Rep. Bart Stupak, D.-Mich., and Smith sponsored the amendment that would have retained the Mexico City policy in law. Like the Mexico City policy, their amendment would not have reduced family planning funds, Smith said.

The International Planned Parenthood Federation is one of the leaders in promoting abortion overseas, he said.

In the party breakdown of the vote on the Smith-Stupak amendment, 25 Democrats joined 180 Republicans in favoring it, while 206 Democrats and 12 GOP members opposed it.

The Mexico City policy initially restricted family planning funds granted only through the USAID. In 2003, however, Bush issued a memorandum requiring all State Department funding for population planning to be governed by the same policy.