The measure to be introduced in the House and Senate this morning will
specify that organizations shall not be ineligible for U.S. aid "solely on the
basis of health or medical services" they offer, as long as they don't violate
the laws of the United States or the country in which they are being provided.
The legislation is aimed at overturning Bush's Jan. 22 executive order,
which was among his first official acts as president. Under Bush's directive,
organizations that offer abortions, or even mention abortions as an option
during counseling, are ineligible to receive U.S. assistance.
Congress now allocates $425 million for international family planning,
which is distributed among more than 400 organizations. Critics have labeled
Bush's directive a "gag rule" that threatens the health of millions of women
around the world.
"This is so outside the mainstream," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., of
Bush's executive order. "It is cruel to women. It is backward. It is
counterproductive. It will lead to more women dying."
Boxer is the author of the Senate measure known as the Global Democracy
Promotion Act of 2001. Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., is offering a companion
measure in the House.
The fight over international family planning funds has emerged as a
linchpin in the larger battle over legal abortions and as a major source of
conflict between Bush and Democrats.
Abortion opponents hailed Bush's action as evidence of his commitment to
limit abortions, while abortion rights advocates warned that it was the first
step in a broader campaign toward ending women's right to legal abortions.
The measure, to be introduced with great fanfare today, faces long
In the House, Lowey has about 40 co-sponsors, including four Republicans.
Certain to be opposed by GOP leaders, the measure will likely be referred to
the International Relations Committee, run by staunch abortion foe Rep. Henry
Hyde, R-Ill. Democrats will need to resort to parliamentary maneuvers to even
get the bill to the floor for a vote.
The prospects are brighter on the Senate side, where pro-choice senators
hold a majority. Boxer has more than a dozen co-sponsors, including at least
four GOP senators, according to her staff.
Sponsors hope that if they can get the matter to the full Senate for debate,
the public will rally to their side.
"The more public awareness there is on this issue, and the more heat that
President Bush takes for enforcing his policy, the better off we are," said
Steven Biel, a spokesman for Population Action International, a family-
planning group based in Washington.
Biel conceded that the legislative prospects are not bright, but said: "The
only other option is to wait four years and hope a Democrat wins. We're not
going to wait four years and let women die."
Secretary of State Colin Powell, asked about the policy on ABC's "This Week,
" provided opponents some hope that Bush might reconsider when he suggested
that he doesn't agree with the president.
"I have other views that are my personal views, but this is the policy of
the government, and it's consistent with President Bush's campaign promises.
And it is consistent with the principles of the party that he represents,"
Powell said on the ABC show.
The White House declined to return phone calls yesterday to discuss the
The bill's introduction today coincides with the first day that
international family planning organizations will be permitted to compete for a
piece of the $425 million pie.
U.S. law already prohibits the funds from being used directly for abortions.
Under the new rules, groups that offer abortions or abortion counseling will
not be eligible for U.S. funds to be used toward any purpose.
Biel and other critics of the Bush directive say it will make many
organizations ineligible, and that scores of others may modify their practices
to withhold abortions or abortion information to qualify for the money.
That, they say, will endanger millions of women, who are in need of
abortions for medical reasons or who will seek out abortions under dangerous
Ironically, some women who rely on such organizations for birth control may
find themselves pregnant and thus increase the demand for abortion, the
"It is very dangerous for women to tie the hands of family planning
organizations," Boxer said.
President Ronald Reagan in 1984 was the first to restrict the use of such
international aid funds. President Bill Clinton reversed the ban when he took
office in 1993.
©2001 San Francisco Chronicle