WASHINGTON — By a slim 218-210 margin, the House voted May 16 to maintain a ban on foreign aid to organizations that promote or commit abortions outside the United States.

“It was a little closer than it's been in the past,” Cathy Cleaver, the U.S. bishops' pro-life activities spokeswoman, told the Register. “Planned Parenthood seems to be pulling out all the stops.”

Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, an organization that focuses on international pro-life issues, told the Register that the abortion lobby used this fight to rally its supporters against President Bush's pro-life policies.

“The Hill has been inundated with phone calls,” said Ruse about the abortion activists. “It's easier to get your troops riled up when you're down.”

The anti-abortion spending provision was attached to the State Department's $8.2 billion appropriations bill. The bill covered funding for the fiscal year 2002, in which President Bush has allocated $425 million for overseas “family planning” money.

This year, $372.5 million is being spent on such programs.

To be eligible for this funding, organizations must pledge not to support or commit abortions. Nine groups refused to sign the pledge, whereas 448 groups agreed to the provision.

The vote was a victory for Bush, who reinstated the ban through executive order on his third day in office.

Earlier this month, a House committee had voted to remove the ban. Afterward, the White House had warned in writing that Bush intended to veto any State Department appropriations bill that sought to overturn his executive order.

At a press briefing, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said, “Now that the matter has been returned to the policy that the president supports, unless there is something else in there, the president will be supportive [of the House bill].”

The ban on foreign organizations that promote or commit abortions is known as the Mexico City policy because President Ronald Reagan first enacted the restriction at a population conference there in 1984. It remained in effect until President Bill Clinton removed the ban in 1993.

Pro-life congressional leaders partially restored the ban in 1999 by linking it to a bill to pay U.S. dues owed to the United Nations, but prolifers charged that the Clinton administration continued to circumvent the provision.

Pro-Abortionists' Anger

Abortion supporters denounced the House vote, calling the restriction of subsidies to abortion groups a “gag rule” that stifles free speech.

“Family planning providers around the world need to be able to talk freely with their clients and with their government about important public health issues,” said Gloria Feldt, president of Planned Parenthood of America, an affiliate of Planned Parenthood International, the world's largest private abortion provider. “The ‘gag rule’ forces providers to withhold information from their clients — an intrusion that would be considered intolerable in the United States.”

Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., an active abortion supporter, echoed those comments during the House debate. “It's not about abortion,” said Lowey about the funding ban. “It's about us imposing on others laws we wouldn't impose on ourselves.”

But Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J, vice-chairman of the House International Relations Committee, told fellow House members that Planned Parenthood and their supporters were being disingenuous. Pro-life spokesmen have pointed out that pro-abortion groups remain free to advocate for abortion outside the United States, but disqualify themselves from receiving U.S. taxpayers' funding for their foreign programs if they choose to do so.

“Members should be aware that the International Planned Parenthood Federation is leaving no stone unturned in its misguided, obsessive campaign to legalize abortion on demand around the world,” Smith said during debate on the House floor. “If they succeed, millions of babies will die from the violence of abortion on demand.”

Cleaver said Planned Parenthood demonstrated its extremism during this debate.

“They are committed to abortions and they want to be funded by U.S. dollars for their abortion crusade,” said Cleaver. “It's sensible that the House has saved it from these efforts.”

Joshua Mercer writes from Washington, D.C.