Senate rejects effort to restore pro-life policy

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WASHINGTON — Congressional pro-life advocates have responded quickly to President Obama's reversal of a ban on federal funds for organizations that perform or promote abortions overseas, but their initial effort failed Jan. 28.

The Senate rejected by a 60-37 vote an amendment by Sen. Mel Martinez, R.-Fla., designed to restore the prohibition known as the Mexico City Policy.

Also on Jan. 28, Rep. Chris Smith, R.-N.J., introduced a bill intended to accomplish the same goal.

The actions came after the newly inaugurated president issued an executive order Jan. 23 rescinding the Mexico City Policy. That rule has prohibited international organizations from receiving U.S. family planning funds unless they agree not to perform or counsel for abortion or lobby in order to liberalize the pro-life policies of foreign governments.

President Bush restored the policy in 2001, eight years after President Clinton overturned it. The Reagan administration instituted the rule in 1984, announcing it at a conference in Mexico City.

Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, applauded the "pro-life champions" in Congress who "are speaking up for millions of the unborn who cannot speak for themselves."

"These pro-life heroes in the House and Senate are giving voice to the silent screams of the millions of babies of the world who will be killed before they can even be born, often subsidized by the taxes of American citizens," Land said.

"I grieve that they were not successful in this effort in the Senate, but at least they were faithful to the cause of the unborn," added Land.

Before the vote on his amendment, Martinez told senators, "The core of this argument is whether U.S. taxpayers ought to be forced to fund efforts abroad that utilize abortion as a means of family planning. If we want to continue fostering a culture of life, where every life is considered sacred, every child is celebrated and life at all stages is given the dignity it deserves, then we will reinstate this policy."

Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska was the sole Democrat to join Republicans in voting for the amendment. Four Republicans — Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania — joined 54 Democrats and two independents in voting the amendment down. Sen. Bob Casey, D.-Pa., is sponsoring the Pregnant Women Support Act, a leading pro-life bill in Congress, but he voted against Martinez's amendment.

"I hope that every person of faith and conscience will carefully scrutinize the roll-call vote to see how their senators voted on this crucial matter, and then respond accordingly by commending their senators who voted to defend life and by expressing their extreme displeasure to those who voted to countenance the government-subsidized killing of the unborn," Land said.

NARAL Pro-choice America, a leading abortion-rights organization, applauded the amendment's defeat.

"This shows that a majority of senators understand that Americans are tired of the antagonistic politics of the past," NARAL President Nancy Keenan said in a written statement. "Unfortunately, anti-choice politicians continue to be relentless in their attacks on women's reproductive health."

Abortion-rights advocates have labeled the Mexico City Policy a "global gag rule," but only two organizations — the International Planned Parenthood Federation and Marie Stopes International — have refused to abide by the Mexico City Policy in recent years and consequently have been refused the funds, according to Democrats for Life of America (DFLA). There are 650 organizations that accept federal money under the restrictions, DLFA reported.

Upon introducing his bill, H.R. 708, Smith described the policy overturned by Obama as "common ground."

"It has allowed the U.S. to substantially fund international family planning without padding the budget of radical groups intent on spreading the scourge of abortion," Smith said in a written release. "Under [the] Mexico City Policy, funding for family planning was not reduced one penny. The president's decision will shift U.S. funding from true family planning programs to programs that provide and promote abortion with little or no regard for the sovereignty of democratic nations that oppose abortion as a method of family planning."

The repeal of the Mexico City Policy may be only the first in a series of efforts by Obama to roll back federal pro-life measures.

In a statement released when he rescinded the Mexico City Policy, the new president indicated he intends to reverse another Bush action. Obama said he planned to work with Congress to reinstate funding to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). During the last seven years, the Bush administration withheld congressionally approved funds for the UNFPA based on the agency's support of a Chinese population control program that has included forced abortion and sterilization.

Other policies that may be targets of the Obama administration either through executive or legislative means include Bush's 2001 policy that bars federal grants for stem cell research that results in the destruction of human embryos, and the Hyde Amendment, a 1976 law that prohibits Medicaid and other federal funds from paying for abortions, except in cases of rape, incest or a threat to the mother's life.

Obama also has endorsed the Freedom of Choice Act, a congressional proposal that would overturn all restrictions on abortion, such as parental notification laws and bans on partial-birth abortion. FOCA, as it is called, would ensure that abortion remains legal through all nine months even if Roe someday is overturned.