Gag order reappears in Congress Foreign aid: Abortion foes continue effort to undermine family planning programs.

March 12, 1998

ABORTION OPPONENTS have been unsuccessful in reversing the Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion in this country. But they have had better results in their attempts to hamper family planning programs in poor countries.

Today, another attempt to impose a "global gag rule" on these programs is expected to reach the floor of the House of Representatives. Members of the Maryland delegation ought to see this for what it is -- a misguided attempt to curb abortions that would instead deprive poor families of contraceptives and increase maternal and child deaths.

Since 1973, federal law has prohibited the use of U.S. funds for abortions; in 1981, Congress banned the use of aid for lobbying on abortion. Despite strict enforcement of these provisions, abortion opponents continue to use the issue to hamstring U.S. foreign policy.

The "gag rule" would deny aid to any private group that uses non-U.S. funds to provide legal abortions or to participate in policy debates about abortion in their own country, including discussions of ways to limit unsafe, illegal abortions. In 1984, President Ronald Reagan imposed similar restrictions on U.S. aid as executive policy. The restrictions remained until 1993, when President Clinton repealed them.

The provision at issue today is attached to the budget authorization for the State Department, which means that other initiatives, such as efforts to pay this country's overdue bills to the United Nations, are also held hostage. This rule is not only bad policy, it is self-defeating if its goal is to prevent abortions. In places such as Russia, where the lack of contraceptives contributes to a high abortion rate, the gag rule would simply increase the number of abortions. Members of the House need to recognize that the temptation to grandstand on this issue comes at too high a cost.

Pub Date: 3/12/98

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