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House Committee Reverses Bush's Foreign Aid Ban

From the WebMD Archives

May 2, 2001 -- The House International Relations Committee reversed President Bush's ban on sending U.S. foreign aid to groups that discuss abortion with their clients or advocate abortion rights.

Three Republicans joined the unanimous Democrats Wednesday in approving the new measure by a vote of 26-22. The provision will be added to the $8.2 billion State Department authorization bill for 2002.

"This issue, in our view, is a freedom of speech issue, not an abortion issue," Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., the committee's top Democrat, said shortly before the vote, focusing as most Democrats did on the free speech aspects.

Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, R-Ill., who has opposed abortion for decades, denounced the measure, saying, "don't exterminate unborn children."

"Let me clarify right off the bat," countered Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., who sponsored the measure, "that no U.S. funds go to perform abortions abroad. This has been our nation's policy since 1973." She was referring to Congress passing such a provision, which was sponsored by Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., that year.

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Abortion issues continue to pose games of political ping-pong between Democratic and Republican administrations.

Just two days after taking office, President George W. Bush had furthered his antiabortion agenda by reversing an executive order allowing federal dollars to be spent on international organizations that either counsel women on abortion services or offer the procedures outright.

Bush's move this past January had countermanded an order that President Clinton made just two days after he was sworn in as president in 1993 -- where Clinton overturned bans on the foreign funding that had been ordered by Ronald Reagan and George Bush.

With Wednesday's new reversal, both Republicans and Democrats indicated the full House might pass the authorization bill with Lee's amendment intact. The last vote on the issue -- a House roll call last summer on whether to make the ban law -- won by just 11 votes. It never became law.

Hyde warned immediately before the vote: "If this amendment prevails, the bill will be vetoed," taking down with it $582 million to pay the second installment of back dues to the United Nations, among other things.

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The restrictions on foreign aid are referred to as the "Mexico City policy" because former President Reagan first announced his plans to implement the strategy at a 1984 population conference there.

The senior President Bush continued it, but President Clinton overturned it -- occasionally through veto threats -- except when he allowed it to become law for a year as a compromise to gain passage of a bill that included money for some back U.N. dues.

Hyde predicted in an interview Wednesday that the provision overturning the Mexico City policy would lose on the House floor but then added, "There's always a doubt" what will happen when the House votes.

Republicans stressed that the Mexico City policy does not take any money away from the $425 million the administration requested for global population assistance, but merely directs that it go only to organizations that do not foster abortions.

"It's my conviction that taxpayer funds should not be used to pay for abortions or advocate, actively promote abortion either here or abroad," said President Bush when he reinstated the ban earlier this year.

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But at that time, many groups, including the National Women's Health Network, told WebMD they felt the Bush administration's view of abortion and family planning were misguided.

"I don't think they're coming in with an open mind," Cindy Pearson, director of the National Women's Health Network, told WebMD in January. Members of the administration, she said, think "that abortion is almost always morally wrong and [they are] wishing it didn't happen."

Ironically, Bush's change in federal policy about funding for abortion-related activities came on the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion. The occasion has sparked protests for the last 27 years.

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