Battle On International Family Planning Looms As Senate Panel Repeals 'Global Gag Rule'

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By Ashley Portero | May 25, 2012 6:20 AM EST

The Senate Appropriations Committee voted Thursday to permanently repeal a global "gag rule" on abortion funding overseas, a move likely to lead to yet another clash with the Republican-led House over family planning and reproductive rights.

In an 18-12 vote, the committee voted to overturn the so-called "gag rule," which bars federal funding for nonprofit groups that provide abortion-related information or services. The repeal is contained in an amendment to a $52.1 billion foreign aid and operations bill introduced by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J. The move comes less than a week after the House Appropriations Committee voted to reinstate the gag rule -- which was repealed by President Barack Obama in 2009 -- and slash international family planning by $149 million.

"House Republicans continue efforts to put politics in the way of vital health care for women by attempting to reinstate the global gag rule," Lautenberg said in a statement. "This amendment ensures this backwards policy never returns and protects access to family planning services for some of the world's poorest women."

Senate Republicans have already indicated the amendment could derail the bipartisan bill by, once again, opening up a debate about social issues that will almost certainly leave the two parties at loggerheads.

"This is where we break apart," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told The Hill.

Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., was the only Democrat voting against the amendment. Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mark Kirk of Illinois broke with their party to vote in favor of the repeal.

The U.S. has provided international family planning and reproductive care services to developing countries since the 1960s. The gag rule has had a shaky history since it was introduced by the Reagan administration in 1984. While President Bill Clinton rescinded it in 1993, it was reinstated by President George W. Bush in 2001; in 2003, Bush expanded the restriction to programs supported by the U.S. Department of State.

Almost immediately after taking office in January 2009, Obama issued an executive order overturning the ban, writing that its conditions were "excessively broad" and "unwarranted."

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