No gag rule on women's health House-Senate conference: Congress once again faces issue of ideology versus lives.

September 28, 1997

AFTER ANOTHER grueling battle over U.S. aid to family planning programs overseas, the House and Senate reached a stalemate before the August recess. This week, conferees will try again to resolve the impasse.

If good sense prevails, they will back down from a House-imposed "global gag rule" that has rightly earned the threat of a presidential veto and left two important pieces of the budget -- the State Department authorization and foreign operations appropriation bill -- in limbo, with the new fiscal year only days away.

The gag rule would prevent both multilateral and private charitable groups in other countries from receiving family planning funds if they use any funds from any other source to provide legal abortion services or to "engage in any activity or effort to alter the laws or governmental policies of any foreign country concerning the circumstances under which abortion is permitted, regulated or prohibited."

That language is vague enough to scare off most recipients. But proponents of the gag rule continue to insist that it is only abortion they oppose, not family planning. Yet that claim was seriously undermined when anti-abortion votes defeated a House amendment, offered as a compromise measure to clarify the gag-rule language. That amendment would have permitted U.S. family planning funds for organizations that "do not promote abortion as a method of family planning and that utilize these funds to prevent abortion as a method of family planning."

It has long been illegal to use U.S. foreign aid for abortions. But it has also been demonstrated time and again that family planning services are the best way to prevent abortions and to save the life and health of millions of women and their young children in developing countries.

Unless the Senate position prevails in these negotiations, abortion opponents will have succeeded once again in putting more importance on ideology than on saving lives.

Pub Date: 9/28/97

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