WASHINGTON — Unable to override a promised veto, Democrats have backed down on their insistence that the 2008 foreign aid budget reverse President Bush's ban on providing aid to family planning groups abroad that offer abortions.
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A measure to ease restrictions on international aid was stripped this weekend from a $500 billion-plus government-wide spending bill, which includes some $35 billion for the State Department and foreign aid programs.
Congress is expected to pass the bill this week. Eliminating the provision allows Democrats to wrap up their long-unfinished budget work and go on vacation before Christmas.
Democrats blamed the White House for threatening to block the bill if it included the measure, and Republicans who agreed to back the president.
"This dogmatic adherence to an illogical position diminishes our influence around the world and prevents us from working effectively to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS and unintended pregnancies and reduce abortions," said Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., chairwoman of the House State and Foreign Operations Appropriations subcommittee.
Since taking office in 2001, Bush has prohibited any assistance to organizations overseas that perform or promote abortion. The policy was first initiated by President Reagan in 1984 at a population conference in Mexico City.
Democrats say an unintended consequence is an alarming shortage of contraceptives, particularly in poor rural areas. After taking control of Congress this year, the Democrats pushed through legislation to ease restrictions.
In June, the House voted 223-201 to allow any overseas organization to obtain U.S.-donated contraceptives.
The Senate followed suit in September with a stronger measure that would have reversed Bush's ban entirely and allowed financial assistance be given to any group, regardless of whether it performs abortions. That measure, sponsored by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., was narrowly approved, 53-41.
The provisions were included as part of the House and Senate's foreign aid spending bills for the 2008 budget year, despite GOP objections.
"If we provide either cash or in-kind contributions or anything of value to pro-abortion organizations in other countries, we empower, enrich and enable them to expand abortion," said Rep. Christopher Smith, R-N.J.
Activists said this week they applaud Democrats for trying.
"It is unconscionable for a president to ignore the majority of the members of Congress, the majority of Americans and the best interests of millions of human beings because he is blinded by his own narrow beliefs," said Amy Coen, president of Population Action International. "Today, the shadow of one man darkens the lives of so many."
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