House committee rebuffs Bush on abortion

Wednesday, May 2nd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ In a rebuff of President Bush, the House International Relations Committee approved a Democratic measure Wednesday that would overturn the ban on aiding foreign organizations that discuss abortion with their clients or advocate abortion rights.

The 26-22 vote saw three Republicans side with unanimous Democrats to add the provision to the $8.2 billion State Department authorization bill for 2002.

It would upend the order Bush imposed as his first act after taking office.

``This issue, in our view, is a freedom of speech issue, not an abortion issue,'' Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., the committee's top Democrat, said shortly before the vote, focusing as most Democrats did on the free speech aspects.

Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, R-Ill., who has opposed abortion for decades, denounced the measure, saying, ``Don't exterminate unborn children.''

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., who sponsored the measure, said, ``Let me clarify right off the bat that no U.S. funds go to perform abortions abroad. This has been our nation's policy since 1973,'' when Congress passed a provision to that effect sponsored by Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C.

Both Republicans and Democrats indicated the full House might pass the authorization bill with Lee's amendment intact. The last vote on the issue _ a House roll call last summer on whether to make the ban law _ won by just 11 votes. It never became law.

Hyde warned immediately before the vote: ``If this amendment prevails, the bill will be vetoed,'' taking down with it $582 million to pay the second installment of back dues to the United Nations, among other things.

The restrictions on foreign aid are referred to as the ``Mexico City policy'' because former President Reagan first announced his plans to implement the strategy at a 1984 population conference there.

The first President Bush continued it, but President Clinton overturned it _ occasionally through veto threats _ except when he allowed it to become law for a year as a compromise to gain passage of a bill that included money for some back U.N. dues.

Hyde predicted in an interview Wednesday that the provision overturning the Mexico City policy would lose on the House floor but then added, ``There's always a doubt'' what will happen when the House votes.

Republicans stressed that the Mexico City policy does not take any money away from the $425 million the administration requested for global population assistance, but merely directs that it go only to organizations that do not foster abortions.

The Republicans who voted for Lee's amendment were Reps. Benjamin Gilman and Amo Houghton of New York and Jim Leach of Iowa.