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Senate Panel Votes to Overturn Family Planning Aid Ban - 2001-08-01

A U.S. Senate committee has voted to overturn President Bush's order restricting American aid to overseas family planning groups.

The Foreign Relations Committee vote is just the first step in a long process. But it shows the Democratic-controlled Senate, with help from moderate Republicans, is willing to challenge Mr. Bush on the contentious issue.

In a bipartisan 12-7 vote, the panel rejected the so-called Mexico City policy, which the president implemented on his first day in office. The rule denies foreign aid to family planning organizations that perform or promote abortions, even if they use other money for these activities.

Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer charged the system actually causes more abortions, by limiting women's access to other methods of birth control. "Seventy-eight thousand women worldwide die from botched abortions every year. By putting in place this gag rule, we are forcing more women to go to the back alleys," she said, referring to illegal, unsafe abortions.

But the Mexico City policy still enjoys strong support from conservative Republicans, including the committee's former chairman, Jesse Helms. Mr. Helms accused his opponents of using deceptive, divisive tactics and bowing to pressure from domestic abortion-rights groups. "Now if you favor money being slipped, taxpayers money being slipped in for abortions, even in Catholic countries that don't want it and all the rest of it, go ahead and vote for this," he said.

The full Senate is not expected to take up the issue until after the August recess.