WASHINGTON — In a move likely to prove only symbolic, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted on Thursday to overturn the Mexico City Policy, which President Trump announced in January he would reinstate and which the State Department formalized in May.
The policy, put in place by Republican presidents and nullified by Democratic ones for three decades, prevents federal family planning assistance from reaching foreign nongovernmental organizations that promote or provide abortions. The policy as announced by the State Department in the spring went a step further by prohibiting any global health assistance from going to these foreign NGOs.
The committee voted 16-14 on Thursday to support an amendment to the State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs budget that would overturn the policy. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who offered the amendment, introduced legislation with the same intent in January, days after President Trump announced he would reinstate the ban.
“The global gag rule is a dangerous and ill-conceived policy that blocks millions of women and their families from receiving critical aid and assistance,” Shaheen said in a statement. “My amendment will preserve and restore funding levels for international organizations that help to prevent over fifty million unintended pregnancies around the world, and reduce the number of maternal deaths we see from those accessing unsafe abortions when the lack of family planning leaves them without options.”
STAT reported in May that the foreign aid funding impacted by the restriction could total $8.8 billion, of which $6 billion goes to the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.
Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) — who co-sponsored Shaheen’s legislation in January — voted for the amendment, while Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) voted no.
The parallel House spending plan included no such provision, meaning a final budget agreement — if one is reached — will include a compromise that could water down the Shaheen amendment’s impacts.
“At some point, these two bills are going to get negotiated into something both houses pass,” said Brian Dixon, a senior vice president at the Population Connection Action Fund, a global family planning advocacy group. “It’s important that the Senate be strongly in support of good family planning and policy.”
But he and other family planning advocates expressed little optimism that the measure would actually be adopted. Capitol Hill’s current conventional wisdom also holds that a full budget deal is less likely than a continuing resolution that largely preserves the spending status quo.
The vote, nonetheless, is another indication of GOP legislators’ reluctance to go along with many White House positions on health, from repealing the Affordable Care Act to reducing funding for biomedical research to its desire to more specifically direct money destined for overseas health organizations.
The White House referred questions to the Office of Management and Budget, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.