by Jodi Jacobson, Editor-in-Chief, RH Reality Check

September 21, 2011 – 6:55pm

Today, the Senate Appropriations Committee adopted an amendment to the FY 2012 State Department and foreign operations appropriations bill that, if signed into law, would block re-imposition of the Global Gag Rule.  The amendment was introduced by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), and would prohibit future Presidents from using executive orders to refuse funding to a foreign organization solely because of the legal medical services it provides; the information, counseling, and referrals it offers; or the advocacy it engages in with its own government—using its own non-U.S. funds.

The Foreign Ops bill provides funding for the U.S. diplomatic corps and development, health, and humanitarian assistance programs of the U.S. government. In it, the committee also approved funding for international reproductive health programs and the U.S. contribution to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

A parallel bill in the House of Representatives approved in committee this summer cuts international family planning funding by 25 percent from current levels, reinstates the Global Gag Rule, and includes a blanket prohibition on U.S. funding to UNFPA.

The current Senate bill includes $700 million for family planning programs, $239 million more than the House bill and $85 million above current funding levels.

According to Population Action International, today’s markup “puts the Senate on record rejecting the House version and sets the stage for a showdown over the final FY 2012 appropriations bill to be negotiated later this year.”

In response to passage of the bill in committee, Lautenberg stated:

“Today we have taken an important step toward permanently ending the global gag rule and protecting access to family planning services for women around the world.  The United States is an international leader for women’s rights, and we must rule out any possibility that this dangerous and harmful policy could return.”

Neither bill is expected to reach a floor vote. Instead, advocates expect that appropriations bills funding the entirety of the federal government will be rolled together into one omnibus or several “minibus” spending bills to be considered later in the year.

The Lautenberg Global Gag Rule amendment was adopted on a largely party-line vote of 18 to 12. All Democrats on the committee, except Senator Nelson (D-NE), voted in favor of the bill. They were joined by three Republicans—Senators Collins (R-ME), Murkowski (R-AK), and Kirk (R-IL)—supporting the amendment.

Senators Collins (R-ME), Feinstein (D-CA), Murray (D-WA), Mikulski (D-MD), and Tester (D-MT) co-sponsored this amendment with Senator Lautenberg (D-NJ).