Albion Monitor /News

Anti-Abortion Rider Slipped Into Foreign Aid

by Jim Lobe

Sharply curbs U.S. support for population programs abroad
(IPS) WASHINGTON -- Setting up a confrontation with both the administration of President Bill Clinton and the U.S. Senate, the House of Representatives approved on Thursday, September 4, a 1998 foreign aid bill that sharply curbs U.S. support for population programs abroad.

Lawmakers voted by a 234-191 margin to approve the so-called Smith amendment, named after anti-abortion crusader Rep. Christopher Smith, that would ban funding for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and multilateral agencies which perform abortions or lobby for easing abortion laws overseas.

The White House has said Clinton will veto any foreign aid legislation which includes the Smith amendment even if the broader package includes components, such as the payment of U.S. arrears to the United Nations, which have long been sought by his administration.

But passage of the Smith amendment also ensures a major fight between the House and the Senate, both of which are controlled by Republicans.

Broad cutbacks in other international aid programs
The Senate, which passed its version of the foreign aid appropriations bill in July, has opposed Smith's anti-abortion crusade each of the last two years. The 1996 foreign aid bill was held up for five months while the two houses haggled over a similar amendment.

In addition to the new Smith amendment, the appropriations bill passed today would provide only $12.3 billion for foreign aid in fiscal 1998, which begins Oct 1. That is $4.5 billion less than the Senate approved in mid-July and far less than the $16.9 billion requested by Clinton.

The bulk of the monetary difference between the House and Senate versions -- which will now have to be reconciled in a conference committee -- consists of a one-time $3.5 billion pledge to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to help it address future currency crises, such as the December 1994 meltdown of the Mexican peso.

The Senate approved Clinton's request to subscribe to the emergency fund, while the House, which tends to be less internationalist, refused to go along.

Another major multilateral agency, the World Bank's International Development Agency (IDA), would also be cut if the House version of the aid bill prevails in the conference committee. While the Senate approved Clinton's request for $1.034 billion for IDA, which provides no-interest loans to the world's poorest nations, the House version offers only $606 million, $428 million below the administration's request.

Washington is already more than one year behind its past commitments to IDA. Another major shortfall in funding for 1998 is certain to further anger other IDA donors who last year moved to curb U.S. companies' ability to bid on IDA procurement contracts. "This will not help matters," one Congressional aide told IPS.

Yet another loser in the House version would be the Global Environment Facility (GEF) for which the administration originally requested $100 million. The Senate approved $60 million for the agency, which funds projects in poor countries that are designed to address problems such as climate change, desertification, and ozone depletion. The House appropriated only $35 million.

But the focus of Thursday's debate was the two-hour debate over the Smith amendment and a substitute proposed by its opponents.

At stake is the more than $400 million Washington provides in population aid overseas. Much of that money is channeled through NGOs such as the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF).

The amendment would ban funding for NGOs that use their own money to provide abortion services or lobby their governments to ease abortion laws.

In addition, the amendment denies any U.S. funds to the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) unless Clinton certifies that no coercive abortions had taken place in China during the previous year or that the Fund had ended all its activities in China.

"What it will do is threaten the health of millions of women who rely on U.S.-sponsored programs for contraceptive services"
Critics argued that the bill amounts to a "global gag rule" that would prevent NGOs from voicing their opinions about abortion. They also contended that abortions overseas would actually increase if the amendment became law, because affected NGOs would be less able to deliver contraception services to women who do not want to have more children.

"Smith's amendment will do nothing to reduce the number of abortions," said Victoria Markell, director of Population Action International, a research and advocacy group here. "What it will do is threaten the health of millions of women who rely on U.S.-sponsored programs for contraceptive services."

But Smith argued that NGOs abroad, and especially IPPF, were engaged in an "all-out attack on (anti-abortion) laws" in their countries. "We're not subsidizing the pro-life movement overseas; I don't know why we should subsidize the abortion movement," he said.

Smith's opponents initially offered a substitute amendment described by Texas Rep. Ken Bentsen as an "honest compromise" designed to meet lawmakers' concerns about not promoting abortion while ensuring that NGOs engaged in legitimate family-planning programs were not penalized.

Sponsored by a bipartisan group of seven lawmakers, it provided that NGOs would be eligible to receive U.S. aid so long as they do not promote abortion as a method of family planning and use U.S. population funding to "prevent abortion as a method of family planning."

Despite those concessions to the anti-abortion forces, the proposed substitute failed in a 210-218 vote.

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Albion Monitor September 8, 1997 (

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