- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 17, 2001

A divided House yesterday voted to uphold President Bushs executive order banning U.S. aid to foreign organizations that perform abortions or promote abortion rights abroad.
The 218-210 vote was one of the first tests of strength in the new Congress on the divisive abortion funding issue, an annual battle between pro-life and pro-choice groups since President Reagan first ordered the spending restrictions in 1984.
Thirty-two Democrats voted for the ban, while 33 Republicans broke with their party leaders to oppose it. The vote came as part of an $8.2 billion foreign-aid authorization bill.
Late yesterday, the House approved the State Department authorization bill by a 352-73 vote.
Included in the authorization was an amendment sponsored by Rep. Tom Lantos, California Democrat, that would withhold about $625,000 in aid to Lebanon until that country secures its borders near Israel. The measure, which passed 216-210, also would direct the president to develop a plan for terminating millions of dollars in other aid if the Lebanese do not comply within six months.
The bill sets spending guidelines for the State Department and aid programs, sharply limits U.S. participation in the proposed International Criminal Court and places new conditions on future U.S. dues payments to the United Nations.
With an earlier amendment overturning Mr. Bushs policy now out of the bill, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the president could accept the House measure.
"Unless there is something else in there, the president will be supportive," Mr. Fleischer told reporters.
Abortion opponents, led by House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican, and Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican, argued that the ban is needed to prevent U.S. taxpayers from unwillingly subsidizing abortion advocates overseas.
They also said the bill provides $425 million for family planning services abroad, a total unaffected by the Bush restrictions.
"Many of these groups use family planning as a Trojan horse for their real goal — abortion on demand," Mr. Smith said during the sometimes-heated debate yesterday. "I urge members, please, lets not add to the body count."
Opponents of the ban denounced it as a "global gag rule" that would prevent legitimate family-planning organizations from even counseling women in some of the worlds poorest countries on their medical options.
They argued that denying funds to certain organizations would harm global family-planning efforts and lead to even more abortions, not fewer.
"This is not about abortion," said Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, New York Democrat. "This is about women dying and about saving womens lives."
Rep. Nita M. Lowey, another New York Democrat, said the Bush administration order would be "an unconstitutional infringement on free speech if it were applied here at home."
But Mr. Hyde said that "no one was being gagged."
Private family-planning groups can "talk away all they want on abortion — just not on our dime," Mr. Hyde said.
Several Democrats warned that one of Mr. Bushs top domestic priorities — tax breaks and other government support for "faith-based" social-service providers such as churches — could be harmed by yesterdays debate.
They said it was "hypocritical" for Mr. Bush to argue that taxpayer money can be insulated from purely religious activities in his domestic faith-based initiative but that the same separation cant be achieved with foreign abortion services.
"The president shouldnt be surprised if the same arguments hes using here are used against him on some of his domestic programs," said Rep. Sander M. Levin, Michigan Democrat.
But Mr. Smith, in an interview after the vote, said U.S. religious organizations would use any government funds for "benign" activities, while foreign private groups could use taxpayer dollars to promote abortions or lobby foreign governments to ease their abortion laws.
President Reagan and President George Bush, Mr. Bushs father, annually extended the spending restrictions, known as the "Mexico City policy," after a 1984 family-planning conference in the Mexican capital. President Clinton reversed the ban upon taking office in 1993, and Mr. Bush reverted to the original policy in an order on his first working day in office in January.
The administration suffered a setback last week when the House International Relations Committee bucked Mr. Hyde and approved an amendment overturning Mr. Bushs action, with three Republicans joining the committees Democrats in the vote.
Both sides claimed to be heartened by yesterdays vote totals on the House floor. On essentially the same question last year under President Clinton, the vote was 221-206 in support of the ban.
"Just look at the numbers and we have four more votes than we did last year," said Lisa Moreno, senior legislative policy analyst at Population Action International, which opposed the ban. "Its progress."
But ban supporters noted that at least one pro-ban member missed the vote, while several other Republican members were prepared to vote with the president if necessary.
"I think we pretty much held the support we had in the last session," said Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee. "The vote was not quite as close as the final tally implies, and this year we have a president behind us willing to veto the bill if we lost."
The two sides promise to resume the fight when the foreign operations appropriations bill, which sets spending totals for the coming fiscal year, reaches the floor later this year.


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