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Senate and House Divided on International Family Planning Aid

June 25, 2014

 Senate and House Appropriations Committees approved drastically different State Department and Foreign Operations appropriations bills this month. The two bills represent dramatically different futures for women around the world.  Robert Walker, president of the Population Institute, says the differences between the two measures “have set the stage for another House/Senate showdown over support for international family planning assistance. The stakes, once again, are high.”  A final compromise is not expected to be reached until November or later.

In the Senate

 The Senate bill included a $37.5 million US contribution to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and $644.3 million earmarked for bilateral reproductive health and family planning (RH/FP) assistance. The total amount of funding approved by the Senate bill is identical to the President’s request, and would represent a 5.6 percent increase over current funding levels.

 Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) offered an amendment permanently repealing the Global Gag Rule, which bars US foreign assistance to family planning providers advocating for abortion rights with their non-U.S. money. All committee Democrats supported the amendment, as did Republican members Senators Collins (R-ME), Murkowski (R-AK), and Kirk (R-IL).

 The Senate bill also includes a provision to offer Peace Corps volunteers access to abortions following instances of rape, incest, or when there is a danger to the life of the mother from carrying a fetus to full term. Every other woman in Federal government service currently has access to this funding.

In the House

 The House bill would deny any funding for UNFPA, caps all funding for RH/FP at $461 million constituting a 24% reduction across the board from FY2014, and includes a rider to legislatively reinstate the Global Gag Rule.

 Democrats unsuccessfully proposed three important amendments to the House bill. Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL) offered an amendment to delete the language capping RH/FP contributions at $461 million. Rep. Rosa-DeLauro (D-CT) offered an amendment striking the blanket ban on US contributions to UNFPA. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) offered an amendment to strike language reinstating the Global Gag Rule. All three amendments were defeated on a mostly party line vote, with Representatives Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) and Dent (R-PA) joining Democrats in support of the amendments.

 Finally, Ranking Member Lowey (D-NY) successfully proposed an amendment by voice vote to allow the Peace Corps to pay for abortions for Peace Corps volunteers in cases of rape, incest or life endangerment.

 The future of these two drastically different approaches to RH/FP is uncertain. The two bills will most likely be worked out in a House/Senate conference committee that will likely meet after the fall elections have been held.  

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