House Bill Still a Family Planning Fixer-Upper, But One Important Repair Made for Peace Corps Volunteers

washmemoblog

 

Earlier this afternoon, the House Appropriations Committee approved an FY 2015 State Department and Foreign Operations appropriations bill that funds the international affairs budget, including funding for international family planning and reproductive health (FP/RH) programs. The bill was adopted after three pro-FP/RH funding and policy amendments were rejected, leaving harmful policy riders and a low FP/RH funding ceiling in the draft bill in place. It will be up to champions in the Senate to make the necessary repairs in conference negotiations to bring the final bill up to code.

Three pro-FP/RH amendments were offered to the draft subcommittee bill. All three were defeated by similar margins with Subcommittee Chair Kay Granger (R-TX) offering token opposition and Ranking Member Nita Lowey (D-NY) voicing her strong support. All Democrats present and voting, except for Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX), supported the three pro-family planning amendments, while all of the Republicans in the room, except for Reps. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) and Charles Dent (R-PA), voted in uniform opposition. Five members, a mix of FP/RH supporters and opponents, were absent from the markup and missed all three votes: Reps. Kingston (R-GA), Nunnelee (R-MS), Pastor (D-AZ), Tim Ryan (D-OH), and Serrano (D-NY).

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL) offered an amendment to delete the language in the draft bill that caps funding for bilateral and multilateral FP/RH programs at “not more than” $461 million, a $149 million or a nearly 25 percent cut below the current FY 2014 appropriated level of $610 million. Committee members were given the opportunity to simply endorse the possibility of providing additional FP/RH funding above the drastically reduced level earmarked in the draft bill in order to expand use of contraception, thereby reducing the incidence of unintended pregnancies and resulting abortions. Disappointingly, the Wasserman-Schultz amendment was rejected on a vote of 20 to 26.

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) then introduced an amendment striking the blanket prohibition on a U.S. contribution to UNFPA in the draft bill and substituting language that earmarks $35.3 million for UNFPA, the President’s budget request level, subject to the restrictions in current law. These boilerplate restrictions require that UNFPA maintain the U.S. contribution in a segregated account, none of which may be spent in China or for abortion, and mandates that the total amount of the U.S. contribution provided to UNFPA during the fiscal year be reduced dollar-for-dollar by any amount that UNFPA spends in China. The debate on the amendment was hijacked by a discussion, initiated by Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL), of the human rights abuses associated with the Chinese one-child policy. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) lent her support to Rep. DeLauro, and both focused their remarks on explaining the current law restrictions and the actual programming that UNFPA provides around the world. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) joined Rep. Aderholt in dissent and in attacking UNFPA. When the roll call was announced, the DeLauro amendment was defeated on an identical vote of 20 to 26.

Following debate on other Democratic amendments, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) offered an amendment to strike the language included in the draft subcommittee bill legislatively reimposing the Global Gag Rule. The language included in the bill would prohibit funding to any foreign nongovernmental organization that “promotes or performs abortion, except in cases of rape or incest or when the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus where carried to term.” Even though the Lee amendment sought to merely strip out this anti-choice “rider” and maintain the current U.S. policy status quo, the amendment was defeated on a vote of 19 to 25. Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL) was the only member to speak in opposition, erroneously claiming that passage of the Lee amendment would allow taxpayer funding of abortions overseas in contravention of the 1973 Helms amendment that is still on the books.

One very positive development at the outset of the committee markup was the adoption an amendment by Ranking Member Lowey to remove the provision in annual appropriations bills since 1979 prohibiting the Peace Corps from paying for abortions for Peace Corps volunteers, even in the narrow cases of rape, incest and life endangerment. Democratic and Republican members of the committee agreed by voice vote to repeal this unjust and inequitable restriction. Last week, the Senate also approved a State-foreign operations appropriations bill that removed this ban. Since both the Senate and House committees have removed the prohibition from their respective versions of the bill, the ban should not be subject to further negotiation (“non-conferenceable”). As result, coverage for abortion in cases of life, rape, and incest should be available to Peace Corps volunteers once the final FY 2015 appropriations legislation is enacted into law later this year.

The future fate of the House and Senate committee-approved bills remains uncertain. The chairs of House and Senate Appropriations Committees continue to press for the return to “regular order” whereby the two bills would be considered by the full membership in each chamber. But the prospects for floor action seem remote given the small number of legislative days on the calendar before the start of the new fiscal year on October 1st and before Congress adjourns for the November election. A “continuing resolution” to keep the government running until a “lame duck” session convenes after the election to negotiate a final FY 2015 federal spending package seems all but inevitable. Until then, the State-foreign operations bill will likely remain in a work stoppage with final construction awaiting the negotiation of the dramatically different blueprints for international FP/RH funding and policy envisioned in the House and Senate bills.