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Bush defied on birth control

House votes to give foreign organizations aid for contraception devices. Republicans say the move will allow groups to use freed-up funds for abortions.

June 22, 2007|Joel Havemann | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The House, seeking to reverse a linchpin of Bush administration policy, voted Thursday to give aid to overseas groups that provide contraceptive devices such as condoms and birth control pills.

An effort by Republican Reps. Christopher Smith of New Jersey and Bart Stupak of Michigan to kill the measure was defeated on a largely party-line vote.

The provision was attached to the $34.2-billion foreign aid appropriations bill for 2008, which the House approved, 241 to 178. The Senate tentatively plans to vote on its version of the foreign aid spending bill next Thursday.

The White House had threatened a veto if Congress approved a bill with the family-planning provision. The House vote to pass the bill fell short of the two-thirds majority necessary to make the bill law over a veto by President Bush.

Republican leaders said enough of their number had pledged to uphold a veto that the bill was doomed as long as it included contraception aid to organizations, such as the International Planned Parenthood Federation, that support the right to an abortion.

The bill joined other spending measures moving through the Democratic Congress that are facing vetoes.

The administration has threatened vetoes of bills it says would violate the dollar limits in Bush's proposed 2008 budget.

The sometimes-emotional House debate on family planning recalled the decades-long clamor over amendments repeatedly offered by Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.), who attached provisions to a series of spending bills from the 1970s through the 1990s barring the use of federal funds for abortion. Hyde retired from the House last year.

The family-planning provision in the bill that cleared the House on Thursday would reverse a policy put in place by Bush in 2001, about two months into his term, to deny foreign aid funds to organizations that provided abortions or promoted the procedure.

Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.), who as chairwoman of the Appropriations subcommittee on foreign aid was the author of the provision to modify that policy, said she drafted it so that it would explicitly continue to prohibit the use of U.S. tax revenue for abortions.

Only contraceptive devices would be permitted, she said. "Providing contraception is the way to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and abortions," Lowey said.

Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) added: "What we're trying to do is prevent the need for abortion."

But Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) said that because "money is fungible," the Democratic bill would free up funds for abortion now used by international family-planning organizations for contraception.

"This is not money," said Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio). Lowey said her provision would furnish only contraceptives, not cash, to organizations that promoted or performed abortions.

Rep. Sander M. Levin (D-Mich.) said that, by Burton's logic, military assistance to U.S. allies could also be construed as contributing to abortion because it would free up public funds that could be used to provide abortions.

However, to most Republicans the issue was as much one of image as of practice.

"Let's show that the United States is not in the business of exporting abortions," said Rep. Mary Fallin of Oklahoma.

Among Californians, Rep. Mary Bono of Palm Springs split with her Republican colleagues and voted in favor of providing contraception aid to organizations that support abortion rights. No California Democrats voted against the measure.


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