Senate Committee Adopts Permanent Global Gag Rule Repeal

This afternoon, Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) successfully offered an amendment to permanently repeal the Global Gag Rule during the Senate Appropriations Committee’s consideration of the bill that funds the State Department and U.S. foreign assistance programs.

The amendment prevailed on a vote of 19 to 11 with all committee Democrats, except Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE), and two Republican women—Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)—supporting the amendment.  The other ten Republicans on the committee opposed the Lautenberg amendment.  Joining Sen. Lautenberg in cosponsoring the anti-Gag Rule amendment were Sens. Collins, Diane Feinstein (D-CA), and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD).

Population Action International commends Senator Lautenberg and his cosponsors for offering this amendment to improve the lives of women in developing countries through family planning. Although President Obama has rescinded the Gag Rule, serious concerns remain about the prospect of a future President reinstating the policy. While family planning assistance can now be provided to the organiza­tions best situated to deliver services on the ground, the typical five-year term of U.S. government-funded projects extend past the next Presidential election—leaving organizations affected by the Gag Rule (and the communities they serve) potentially vulnerable to an immediate cut-off of funding.  It is this uncertainty that has led to reluctance on the part of some nongovernmental partners and U.S. government officials to enter into agreements with organizations that might be deemed ineligible for funding in the future.

On the funding front, the committee approved $700 million for bilateral and multilateral funding for family planning and reproductive health programs in FY 2011, including a $55 million U.S. contribution to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) .  The overall Senate committee-passed level is $35 million less than the $735 million approved by the House subcommittee in June and $16 million less than the President’s budget request of $716 million.  Nevertheless, it is important to keep in mind that although the Senate number is less than the House level and the budget request, it is $51.5 million higher than the current level of $648.5 million approved by Congress for FP/RH programs for FY 2010.

The prospects for the Lautenberg amendment remain uncertain as the companion House version of the State-foreign operations appropriations bill does not currently contain the provision.  In addition, the timetable for completing the FY 2011 appropriations bills remains in doubt.  Neither the full House nor Senate may have an opportunity to consider and vote on the bill in their respective chambers, and final action on spending bills may be deferred until a lame duck session after the November election.

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