Senate casts mixed abortion votes

WASHINGTON (BP)--The Senate restored in legislation Sept. 6 a longstanding pro-life measure that bars federal funds for organizations that support coercive abortion or sterilization programs.

The Senate, however, failed to approve the restoration of the Mexico City policy banning federal funds for organizations that perform or promote abortions in foreign countries.

Senators voted 48-45 for the first of two pro-life amendments by Sen. Sam Brownback, R.-Kan., to the Foreign Operations spending bill. The amendment that gained approval, in effect, placed back into the spending measure the 1985 Kemp-Kasten amendment that prohibits U.S. family planning money from going to any entity that, as determined by the president, "supports or participates in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization."

The Senate, however, voted against the other proposed Brownback amendment that would have restored the Mexico City policy. That vote was 53-41.

Brownback expressed disappointment at the Mexico City vote but said he was pleased at the adoption of Kemp-Kasten.

"While my colleagues and I may continue our debate about abortion, I think we can all agree that involuntary, forced sterilization and abortion is wrong on all accounts," Brownback said in a written release. "As a global leader, America must continue to protect life."

The Senate passed the overall spending measure in an 81-12 vote.

In recent years, the Bush administration has refused to forward money to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) because of its determination such a grant would violate Kemp-Kasten, named after GOP Reps. Jack Kemp of New York and Robert Kasten of Wisconsin, who sponsored the measure in the mid-1980s. The UNFPA has been linked to China's coercive population control program.

Officials in many parts of China have practiced a forced family planning program for more than 25 years in an attempt to curb the birth rate in the world's most populous country. A law codifying the policy throughout China went into effect in 2002.

The policy limits couples in urban areas to one child and those in rural areas to two, if the first is a girl. Other exceptions have been made in some provinces, and enforcement of the policy has varied among regions. The program has been marked by coercive sterilization and abortion, but infanticide, especially of females, also has been reported.

The UNFPA has denied charges it supports coercive programs, but a State Department investigative team in 2002 reported the UNFPA provided computers and vehicles to Chinese population control offices.

The UNFPA received federal funds during all but one year of the Clinton administration.

President Bush reinstated the Mexico City policy by executive order on his second full day in office in 2001. President Reagan had first established the policy, which was announced at a 1984 conference in Mexico's capital. When President Clinton took office in 1993, he immediately rescinded the rule.

Under the Mexico City policy, organizations may receive State Department aid if they agree not to perform abortions, to lobby foreign governments to revise their abortion laws and to "promote abortion as a method of family planning." Abortions are permitted as part of the policy when the mother's life is endangered or in cases of rape or incest.

Bush told Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in a May letter he would veto any measure sent him by the Democratic-controlled Congress that "weakens current Federal policies and laws on abortion, or that encourages the destruction of human life at any stage." In his letter, Bush cited restrictions on grants to organizations that promote abortion as a family planning method in examples of policies he considers worthy of his protection.

Both houses of Congress must achieve a two-thirds majority in order to override a presidential veto.

In the roll call on the Kemp-Kasten amendment, 44 Republicans and four Democrats voted for the measure, while 40 Democrats, three Republicans and two independents opposed it.

On the Mexico City vote, 44 Democrats, seven GOP members and two independents opposed the amendment, while 39 Republicans and two Democrats supported it.


Tom Strode is the Washington Bureau chief for Baptist Press.

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