Our election will affect abortion rights abroad

Posted: Friday, October 27, 2000

The following editorial appeared in Thursday's San Jose Mercury News:

The next president may or may not have enough Supreme Court appointments to alter the status of Roe v. Wade. But he will have the power to determine whether abortions will be made available to many Third World women.

Republican congressional leaders agreed this week to remove restrictions that ban aid to any international family planning group that provides abortions or lobbies for abortion rights. The deal marks a small victory for abortion-rights advocates, who had been battling presidents and Congresses on the issue off and on for two decades.

Their success may be short-lived, however. The restrictions will stay in effect until February 2001, which means that the next president, who will be in office by then, could reimpose them.

Democrat Al Gore, an abortion-rights supporter, probably wouldn't. But Republican George W. Bush opposes federal money for abortions or abortion counseling, whether at home or abroad. He hasn't taken a position on this specific legislation.

Congress has long prohibited the direct use of public money for abortions. But in 1984, President Reagan took this one step further. By executive order, he banned aid for family planning groups that offer abortions, even when they pay for the services out of their own money. Groups were required to certify that they conformed to receive aid. Nearly all family planning agencies accepting aid complied.

The restrictions were an unwarranted restriction on family planning options in the Third World and an intrusion by government into non-profit groups. Clinton rescinded the restrictions in 1993 as one of his first acts as president. But last year, he was forced to reimpose them as part of a compromise in which Congress agreed to fund America's U.N. dues.

This year, Clinton was once again threatening to veto any foreign aid bill that included the abortion clause. This week's agreement doesn't reflect a softening by Republican leaders on the abortion issue; they simply have gone out of their way to avoid a conflict with Clinton this close to the election, with control of Congress up for grabs. (Having been humiliated by Clinton so many times in high-profile budget confrontations, they finally smartened up.)

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