Senate panel OKs shifts in abortion policy

The Senate Appropriations Committee voted Thursday to lift a ban on emergency abortion coverage for Peace Corps volunteers and to permanently repeal restrictions on foreign aid for family-planning groups.

The amendments are now reflected in a 2015 spending bill for the State Department. One was offered by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who is up for reelection in November.

ADVERTISEMENT
The bill won praise from advocates who argued that current rules discriminate against women serving in the Peace Corps and, when Republicans control the White House, national governmental organizations (NGOs) that support abortion rights abroad.

"Peace Corps Volunteers are virtually the only group of individuals with federal health insurance who are subjected to such punitive and extreme restrictions on abortion care," said Center for Reproductive Rights President Nancy Northup in a statement.

If signed into law, one provision would allow women in the Peace Corps to receive abortion coverage for pregnancies arising from rape or incest or that endanger the woman's life. Other federal employees currently benefit from these rules.

The spending bill would also permanently repeal a rule barring NGOs that receive U.S. aid from providing abortion counseling, referrals or services or advocating for abortion access, even with separate funds.

Abortion-rights opponents argue the policy is necessary to ensure that no public funds are used to advocate for abortion.

Known alternatively as the Mexico City Policy or the Global Gag Rule, the restriction was first imposed by the Reagan administration in 1984 and is intermittently enforced, depending on the administration in power.

President Obama rescinded the rules in January 2009, shortly after he took office, but congressional Democrats have worked to legislatively block future presidents from re-enforcing them.

Shaheen said eliminating the policy will decrease the number of abortions in developing countries by increasing access to other forms of birth control.

"The Global Gag Rule ... is not only dangerous — it is ineffective," she said in a statement.

The amendment was cosponsored by nine Democrats, including vulnerable Alaska Sen. Mark Begich, and two Republicans: Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Mark Kirk (Ill.). It was approved by a vote of 19 to 11.

The spending bill now heads to the Senate floor. 

More in Senate

Senate panel to hear from Liberian president

Read more »