Senate approves early release of funds for family planning Fight over abortion had put money in limbo


WASHINGTON -- Ending the first abortion-related skirmish of the 105th Congress, the Senate approved President Clinton's request yesterday for early release of $385 million in international family-planning funds.

The 53-46 Senate vote clears the measure for Clinton's signature.

"This is a victory for women, children and families all over the world," said the White House press secretary, Mike McCurry.

The money had been in limbo because anti-abortion lawmakers were concerned that the United States was supporting population-control groups that promoted abortion overseas. Those lawmakers had tried to slash funding for the family-planning program last year. In a compromise, the White House agreed to hold up release of the funds until July 1 unless it could be determined the delay was hurting the program.

After the administration found that the program was suffering, it asked Congress to release the funds March 1. The House approved the request Feb. 13, but not without strong dissent from conservative Republicans, who fought to attach strict anti-abortion guarantees to the funding.

U.S. law already prohibits direct federal funding of abortions in foreign countries. But the conservatives had hoped to change the law to keep population-control groups from using their own funds to perform or promote abortions abroad.

In the House, the issue pitted conservatives against Democrats and moderate Republicans, who argued that an ideological fight over abortion should not deny women in poor Third World countries access to condoms, birth-control pills, and other U.S.-funded methods for preventing pregnancy. Environmental groups also weighed in, saying that population control protects the environment.

The Senate, however, spent little time debating the measure yesterday.

Rep. John E. Porter of Illinois, a moderate Republican who helped lead the fight in the House to release the funds, said he was pleased with the Senate vote. "I think the American people are overwhelmingly supportive of family planning," Porter said. "I don't think they support attempts to undermine" the program.

Family-planning groups also applauded the Senate vote.

"Congress has shown that there is common ground between those who oppose abortion rights and those who support them, and that common ground is family planning," Victoria Markell, vice president of Population Action International, said in a statement.

But a spokeswoman for National Right to Life, an anti-abortion group, said the slim margin by which the resolution passed the Senate showed ambivalence in Congress over the international family-planning program.

"The close nature of the vote should serve as a wakeup call to the Clinton administration that its [abortion-rights stand] has turned this program into a very controversial one," said Maureen Malloy Ferguson.

Pub Date: 2/26/97

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.