House panel backs ban on abortion funds
WASHINGTON (AP) — A House panel on Thursday endorsed a ban on giving federal money to international groups that perform abortions or provide abortion information, a fresh effort to reverse Obama administration policy.
On the second day of a marathon session, the House Foreign Affairs Committee struggled to complete a sweeping foreign aid bill that would block U.S. assistance to Pakistan, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority unless the Obama administration reassures Congress that they are combatting terrorism. It also would slash U.S. contributions to international organizations and limit President Barack Obama's authority on overseas issues.
Overall, the bill would cut $6.4 billion from Obama's request of $51 billion for the State Department and foreign operations in the next budget.
The legislation represented an opportunity for Republicans led by the committee chairwoman, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., to set down a marker. However, the legislation has no chance in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
The panel backed a provision banning U.S. taxpayer money, usually Agency for International Development funds, from going to international family planning groups that either offer abortions or provide abortion information, counseling or referrals. Exceptions are for rape, incest or if the life of the mother is in danger.
The committee turned back an effort by the top Democrat, Rep. Howard Berman of California, to strike the abortion provision. The vote was 25-17.
Berman complained that the policy "prevents poor women and families around the world from gaining access to essential information and health care services." He added that the provision bars all assistance, including funds for HIV and AIDS, child survival, education and water and sanitation.
The controversial policy has bounced in and out of law for the past quarter century since Republican President Ronald Reagan first adopted it 1984. Democrat Bill Clinton ended the ban in 1993, but Republican George W. Bush re-instituted it in 2001 as one of his first acts in office. Within days of his inauguration, Obama reversed the policy.
Dismayed by Pakistan's effort in the terror war, the bill would bar civilian and security aid to Islamabad unless the U.S. secretary of state can certify to Congress that Pakistan is pursuing terrorists and helping investigate how Osama bin Laden managed to hide for years inside Pakistan.
But the panel rejected a more far-reaching effort targeting U.S. aid to Pakistan. The committee defeated an amendment by Rep. Dana Rohrbacher, R-Calif., to cut off all assistance to Pakistan. The vote was 39-5.
Tempers rose among Republicans and Democrats on the panel over an amendment by Rep. Connie Mack, R-Fla., to eliminate the $650 million for the global climate change initiative.
Freshman Rep. Renee Ellmers, R-N.C., said the money could be better spent because "we know there's climate change, we don't know if it's man-made."
Democratic Rep. Gerald Connolly of Virginia scoffed at that argument as the temperature in Washington climbed into the 100s, questioning why the panel would substitute political rhetoric for scientific study.
"We're going to deny global warming. This presents us with a false choice," Connolly said.