Some of you may remember that the Senate repealled the Global Gag Rule a few months back. They couldn’t get the House to go along with them, but they did work out a compromise — one that is much, much better than the current situation — whereby U.S. funds would still not go towards overseas abortions or to organizations that provide them, but would begin to directly provide contraception to these groups. The current policy states that any health care provider that receives U.S. funds cannot provide abortions, nor can they even talk about them (i.e. give a referral). That has put organizations in the gut wrenching situation of either failing to serve women’s best health interests by ensuring that they have access to abortion, or failing to provide contraceptive services who all who need it, including those who have come to depend on it. Women are getting hit from both sides. The policy has obviously caused an increase in unsafe, illegal abortions, and has therefore cost many lives.
Anti-abortion Democrats in Congress this year joined abortion rights supporters to pass a foreign aid spending bill that they all said would reduce abortions in poor countries. It would allow the federal government to donate contraceptives to foreign groups that provide family planning services abroad, including those that offer abortions or favor making them legal.
But Democratic leaders in the House and Senate now have to decide whether to keep this provision in a major appropriations bill that includes popular programs to fight AIDS and malaria globally, knowing that President Bush is likely to veto it. Their decision is expected by Monday.
“People feel very strongly about the principle and that this president has ignored majorities in the House and Senate on this issue,” said Tim Rieser, the senior Democratic staff member on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on foreign aid. “But we also know we don’t have the votes to override a veto.”
This is the latest skirmish over a policy to prohibit giving federal funds for family planning programs to foreign groups that perform abortions or promote abortion as a family planning method. Known as the Mexico City policy, because it was announced there at a United Nations conference in 1984, it remained in force during the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. It was rescinded by President Clinton and reinstated by President Bush.
Personally, I think that the bill is mainstream enough that the Dems could make a veto fairly unpopular with a simple PR campaign. But, of course, public opinion has never stood in Bush’s way. So it’s a tough situation. If they decide to go ahead and pass the policy, only to have it vetoed, they will be standing by their principles. They will also be wasting legislative time in going back, revising the bill and doing the whole thing all over again. But perhaps of greater concern, while the current compromise is really about contraception, the Republicans will make it about abortion. And though I’d love to see them have to justify this policy during an election year, bringing up abortion is always a gamble.
And, in fact, the anti-choice GOP is pretty shameless in their support of current policy:
Five of the anti-abortion Democrats in the House, including Representatives Jim Langevin of Rhode Island and Henry Cuellar of Texas, wrote to leaders of the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday advocating that the committee keep the provision in the bill on the grounds that “it will help reduce the need for abortion, the number of unintended pregnancies, and the spread of H.I.V./AIDS.”
But in the impassioned debate in Congress earlier this year, Republicans said that giving contraceptives to such groups was the same as giving them money and would free up resources that could be used for abortions.
Mr. Bush and administration officials have issued veto threats. A White House spokesman, Tony Fratto, said the president, like the Republicans in the House, saw a donation of contraceptives as “providing support with taxpayer dollars to nongovernmental organizations that promote abortion as a method of family planning.”
It’s a funny juxtaposition of arguments. Of course, they’re not so different from the usual ones, but the bluntness amuses me. Normally, anti-choicers would at least try to justify their position from a health standpoint, even though their argument that the Global Gag Rule reduces abortion is total bullshit. But what we have here is essentially one side saying that this policy makes the most sense regarding reducing the need for abortion and the general interest of international health. And the other side is saying “oh yeah? Well, we don’t wanna.”
I also think that the transparency of policy is pretty surprising. Normally, I would expect to see something about how what international health organizations do is none of our business, but that doesn’t mean the U.S. has to fund them. Instead, we’re getting the blatant truth: the U.S. government believes that it has a right to say what foreign organizations can and can’t promote. Again, this isn’t news to me — it has always been pretty damn clear that what the U.S. is trying to do is make abortion as unavailable to poor women in need as is humanly possible. But I also expect some kind of media spin and sugar-coating.
It constantly amazes me how utterly arrogant conservatives still are with their belief that we get to dictate international policy, even after the mess that ideology has gotten us into. Now there’s something that I’d like to see Democrats begin talking about.