June 22, 2007 in Nation/World

House votes to lift ban on foreign aid to abortion backers

Anne Flaherty Associated Press

WASHINGTON – The House voted narrowly Thursday to reverse a ban on contraception aid to groups overseas that offer abortions, challenging a pillar of President Bush’s foreign aid policy.

If the proposal passes the Senate, Bush is likely to swiftly veto it and be upheld by conservative lawmakers, who say no assistance of any kind should be given to organizations that promote or offer abortions.

The measure, approved 223-201, is intended by the new Democratic majority to crack open debate on a policy it says is failing badly. Initiated by President Reagan in 1984 at a population conference in Mexico City, the policy bars any assistance to organizations abroad that perform or promote abortion as a method of family planning.

Democrats say an unintended consequence is an alarming shortage of contraceptives, particularly in poor rural areas.

The bill would help “reduce unintended and high-risk pregnancies and abortions … and save the lives of mothers,” said Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., who chairs the House appropriations panel that oversees the foreign aid budget.

“It is simply not enough to say you support family planning, so long as the current restrictions remain in law,” Lowey said.

The House voted to attach the measure to a $34.2 billion bill that pays for State Department operations and foreign aid in 2008. Before the bill reaches the president, it will have to pass the Senate, which is under control by a much more narrow majority of Democrats.

Lowey initially drafted legislation to guarantee funds to any group so long as the assistance included funding for contraceptives. Facing stiff opposition to the plan, Lowey drafted the amendment that passed to restrict the aid to U.S.-donated contraceptives. The legislation does not affect other aspects of the Mexico City policy.

Republicans still bristled at the proposal because they said the donation would free up resources for groups to provide abortions.

In a statement released Tuesday, the administration said the president would veto any legislation “that weakens current federal policies and laws on abortion.”

Republicans said they would oppose final passage of the spending bill because of the contraception provision – an uncomfortable vote for many because it meant turning down hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid, including assistance for Israel.

© Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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