Capital Critique: House Moves to Reimpose the Global Gag Rule

The never ending political ping pong of whether the United States imposes a global gag rule on health care providers including voluntary contraception and family planning services for their clients went another round today in the House Foreign Relations Committee.  Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) successfully included a provision to put the global gag rule into law during consideration of the State Department Authorization bill – and efforts by proponents of health and rights to strip this harmful provision from the bill failed by a vote of 17-25 this morning.

Debate on the bill – which sets the framework for foreign policy and development assistance – was long and contentious, starting Wednesday morning at 10 and going until about 2:30 am on Thursday…beginning again at 9 this morning.  Overall the direction seems to be in an isolationist direction – attempting to cut US support to the United Nations – including for peace keeping, withdrawing from the Organization of American States, blasting anything to do with China, among other issues.  The long list of actions along these lines led Democratic leadership to refer to the bill as “Fortress America.”

The debate on the Global Gag Rule started at 11:45 pm on July 20, 2011 – with Ranking Member Howard Berman (D-CA) leading the effort to remove the provision from the bill being considered.   Berman noted that the policy “prevents poor women and families around the world from gaining access to essential information and health care services.” He also raised concerns that the restrictions on organizations would apply to any foreign assistance they receive to provide health care services –  including funds for HIV and AIDS, child survival, education and water and sanitation.

In the past, the global gag rule has been by Executive Order only (not in the law) and only applied to organizations that received program funds for family planning services.  They are prohibited from receiving these funds if they use their own, non US, funds to provide or refer individuals to abortion services or if they participate in public debates and discussions about the legality of abortion in their own country.

A spirited, hour-long debate ensued with Reps. Berman, Gerry Connolly (D-VA), David Cicilline (D-RI),  Allison Schwartz (D-PA), Elliot Engel (D-NY), Peter Deutch (D-FL), and Chris Murphy (D-CT) presenting a range of views for why the global gag rule should not be reinstated.  Longstanding opponents of women’s rights chimed in opposing the Berman amendment, including Reps. Chris Smith (R-NJ), Jean Schmidt (R-OH), Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), Ann Marie Buerkle (R-NY), Renee Ellmers (R-NC), and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) speaking in favor of reinstating the gag rule.  (Overall there are more Republicans on the Committee then Democrats.

All Republican committee members and one Democrat, Rep. Ben Chandler (D-KY), voted against the Berman effort to remove the global gag rule.

Once the committee finishes debating the bill, it will be ready to be taken up by the full House of Representatives – as well as by the Senate.  The debate on the global gag rule will continue through this and other legislative processe.  To keep this anti women anti free speech provision from becoming law, sign up to receive updates on how to engage.

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