Politico: GOP senators join Dems to lift abortion ‘gag rule’
Three Senate Republicans, including vulnerable incumbent Mark Kirk of Illinois, helped Democrats advance a repeal of the so-called global gag rule that restricts U.S. funding to humanitarian organizations that provide abortions.
In a Senate Appropriations Committee markup Thursday, Kirk and GOP Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) joined the left to approve an amendment to the State Department spending bill that would lift the restriction, which has been a mainstay for Republicans since the Reagan administration in the 1980s.
It’s not surprising that Kirk was among the trio tacking to the middle: He’s been called the most vulnerable Senator up for reelection, and he’s running neck-and-neck with Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.). Murkowski , who was booted in her last primary by a conservative but won in an surprising write-in campaign, is also up in 2016. Collins has a reputation for being perhaps the most centrist member of the caucus, though her seat is considered safe.
The amendment was adopted 17-13.
Republicans traditionally oppose financing for groups that help women terminate pregnancies, and the House version of the same bill, for example, is jam packed with language limiting funding for such procedures. Democrats, on the other hand, say the money would help low-income women around the world access needed family planning care that would reduce the number of abortions over the long-haul.
“An estimated 225 million women in developing countries are unable to access family planning services,” said amendment sponsor Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.). “Providing greater access to family planning and reproductive health services improves the health of mothers and children, empowers women to make their own choices about how to grow their families, and is a smart investment that helps reduce poverty.”
The conservative-backed global gag rule essentially bars U.S. financial aid stipulated for contraception and family planning services, to any organization that performs or advises women about abortions — even if the U.S. money is not used for those items specifically. The rule is currently suspended by an executive order from President Barack Obama, but the Shaheen amendment repeals it permanently.
The amendment would, however, continue a prohibition on U.S. funding being used to perform abortions. Health agencies would have to use their own money for those types of services.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who chairs the spending subpanel overseeing the bill, urged a no vote, taking issue with part of the amendment that increasing money for the UN Population Fund that supports “abortions and sterilization in China.”
“[We won’t] put taxpayer dollars in an area where most Americans don’t want it to go,” he said.
But the three Republicans backed the amendment anyway.
The Democratic victory is more symbolic than anything else, as the foreign operations bill is unlikely to even make it to the Senate floor since Democrats are blocking all spending bills to hold out for a larger spending deal.
But the vote sends a signal about the potential for evolving GOP mindsets on the topic.