The Senate Appropriations Committee today launched a counter-offensive against the House Republicans’ global war on women.  Family planning champions, led by Subcommittee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT),  adopted a Lautenberg amendment to legislatively block a re-imposition of the anti-family planning Global Gag Rule, and approved higher funding for family planning and reproductive (FP/RH) programs overseas and a U.S. contribution to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

Action took place during committee markup of the FY 2012 State Department and foreign operations appropriations bill, which funds diplomacy and development, health, and humanitarian assistance programs of the U.S. government.

The companion House subcommittee draft bill approved back in July contains a 25 percent funding reduction for international FP/RH programs from current levels, an amendment reinstating the Global Gag Rule, and a blanket prohibition on a U.S. contribution to UNFPA.  Today’s markup puts the Senate on record rejecting the House version and sets the stage for a showdown over the final FY 2012 appropriations bill to be negotiated later this year.

The Lautenberg Global Gag Rule amendment was adopted on a largely party-line vote of 18 to 12, with all Democrats except Senator Nelson (D-NE) and three Republicans—Senators Collins (R-ME), Murkowski (R-AK), and Kirk (R-IL)—supporting the amendment.  Senators Collins (R-ME), Feinstein (D-CA), Murray (D-WA), Mikulski (D-MD), and Tester (D-MT) co-sponsored this amendment with Senator Lautenberg (D-NJ).  The Lautenberg amendment would prohibit a future President from refusing to fund a foreign organization solely because of the legal medical services it provides; the information, counseling, and referrals it offers; or the advocacy it engages in with its own government—using its own non-U.S. funds.

In describing the intent of his amendment, Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) stated: “Today we have taken an important step toward permanently ending the global gag rule and protecting access to family planning services for women around the world.  The United States is an international leader for women’s rights, and we must rule out any possibility that this dangerous and harmful policy could return.”

In the lead up to today’s markup, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and a record number of 16 original cosponsors reintroduced the Global Democracy Promotion Act (S. 1585), a freestanding bill that would accomplish the same goal as the Lautenberg amendment.  An identical House bill (H.R. 2639) was introduced by Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) in July.  H.R. 2639 has attracted 105 sponsors to date.

The committee-approved Senate bill also includes $700 million for international FP/RH programs from all accounts, $239 million more than the House bill and $85 million above current funding levels.  In today’s austere budget and deficit-reduction environment in Washington, the proposed Senate funding level for FP/RH is a significant victory. 

The bulk of the funding is for bilateral FP/RH programs funded out of USAID’s Global Health and Child Survival account ($585 million) with the remainder allocated out of several smaller accounts (ESF and AEECA).  In addition, $40 million is allocated within the $700 million funding total for a U.S. contribution to UNFPA without any punitive policy restrictions that would prevent U.S. funds from flowing to UNFPA.

The Senate and House bills are not expected to reach the floor for debate in either chamber.  Instead, appropriations bills funding the entirety of the federal government will likely be rolled together into an omnibus or several “minibus” spending bills to be considered later in the year. The House and Senate are expected to pass a short-term continuing resolution by September 30th which will fund the federal government, including foreign assistance, through mid-November.

The President and the Senate should stand behind the Senate’s life saving and pro-family planning positions and emerge from the final negotiations with as high a funding level as is possible and no harmful policy “riders.”

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