Senators back repeal of 'global gag rule' for abortion services

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday backed an effort to repeal a controversial U.S. policy known as the “global gag rule,” which blocks funds from any international group offering abortion services.

In a surprising show of support, three Republicans backed the amendment: Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsPoll: McConnell is most unpopular senator Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers struggle to understand Facebook's Libra project | EU hits Amazon with antitrust probe | New cybersecurity concerns over census | Robocall, election security bills head to House floor | Privacy questions over FaceApp Trump angry more Republicans haven't defended his tweets: report MORE (R-Maine), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiPoll: McConnell is most unpopular senator Overnight Defense: Highlights from Defense pick's confirmation hearing | Esper spars with Warren over ethics | Sidesteps questions on Mattis vs. Trump | Trump says he won't sell F-35s to Turkey Epstein charges show Congress must act to protect children from abuse MORE (R-Alaska) and Mark KirkMark Steven KirkAdvocates push for EpiPens on flights after college student's mid-flight allergic reaction Funding the fight against polio Ex-GOP Sen. Kirk registers to lobby MORE (R-Ill.).

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Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenPoll: McConnell is most unpopular senator How to reduce Europe's dependence on Russian energy Epstein charges show Congress must act to protect children from abuse MORE (D-N.H.) proposed the policy change as part of the $48 billion fiscal 2016 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill, which was approved by the full committee Thursday.

Her amendment would also restore about $600 million in funding for international contraceptive services, which goes to agencies like the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which would receive $35 million.

That program offers family planning services to 28 million women, which helps avert 6 million unintended pregnancies and 2.4 million induced abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Under the global gag rule, no agency or organization can receive aid from the U.S. if they perform or advise women about abortions, even if the procedure is legal in that country.

The amendment would codify an action already taken by the Obama administration to skirt the rule.

The rule, also known as the Mexico City Policy, was first created by the Reagan administration. It is in addition to another long-standing policy known as the Helms Amendment that blocks U.S. aid from funding abortions in nearly all cases.

The Obama administration, working with Senate Democrats, has prevented the global gag rule from taking effect since 2011, when Republicans began adding the restriction into annual spending bills. But some reproductive health groups had feared it could be reinstated now that Republicans control the chamber.

“Providing greater access to family planning and reproductive health services improves the health of mothers and children, empowers women to make their own choices about how to grow their families, and is a smart investment that helps reduce poverty,” Shaheen wrote in a statement.