June 22, 2007 / 8:47 AM / 12 years ago

US House approves foreign aid; ignites abortion fight

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON, June 22 (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives ignored a White House veto threat and passed on Friday a foreign aid bill that would allow government donations of contraceptives to family planning groups outside the United States even though they engage in abortion activities.

By a vote of 223-201, the House voted to lift the prohibition in place since 2001. The move angered anti-abortion lawmakers who see it as a step toward loosening strict controls against using U.S. funds for abortions abroad.

The measure was attached to a $34.2 billion foreign aid bill for the fiscal year beginning on Oct. 1 that the House passed by a vote of 241-178. House Republicans say they have enough votes to uphold a possible veto by President George W. Bush.

The Senate has not yet debated the bill.

The House bill contains other controversial initiatives, including withholding $200 million in military funds for Egypt until Cairo shows it is improving human rights abuses and is stopping weapons smuggling from Egypt to Gaza.

It also would bar U.S. diplomatic operations in Libya until Tripoli pays off families of those killed in the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am jetliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, and funds Bush pro-democracy initiatives in Cuba that some Democrats argued have been ill-managed.

While the bill denies Bush’s request for more economic aid to Iraq, it would spend $1 million to finance a second Iraq Study Group evaluation of the country, where U.S. forces have been fighting since 2003.

The House bill also reiterates that no U.S. funds can be channeled to Hamas, which is engaged in a battle with Fatah for control of the Palestinian Authority.

On Monday, the United States lifted an aid embargo on the Palestinian government to bolster moderate President Mahmoud Abbas, while isolating Hamas Islamists, who are accused of engaging in terrorism and now control the Gaza Strip.

Rep. Nita Lowey, the New York Democrat who wrote the amendment on contraceptives, insisted it would not change prohibitions on funding abortions abroad.


Instead, she said her legislation could help prevent 52 million unwanted pregnancies and 29 million abortions a year. "It would advance the Bush administration’s stated goal ... to make abortion more rare and protect women and children," Lowey argued.

Most Republicans were not convinced, saying the donated condoms and other contraceptives would free up funds for groups operating abroad to encourage or perform abortions.

"The violence of abortion will increase" with this initiative, said Rep. Christopher Smith.

A White House statement issued on Tuesday said Bush would veto a bill that "weakens current federal policies and laws on abortion."

The foreign aid bill also would fund efforts to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS globally next year.

The House, in a debate that began on Thursday, defeated Republican efforts to include about $200 million for Iraq to pay for infrastructure repairs and other nonmilitary programs. Bush had asked for $456 million.

Democrats, who control the House, opposed any new money, saying the Bush administration had not adequately explained how it would spend $2.86 billion recently provided for Iraq rebuilding in an emergency war-funding bill.

The House approved $1.3 billion for international peacekeeping, rejecting the Bush administration’s suggested funding cuts despite expanding U.N. missions in Lebanon and Darfur and a renewed effort in East Timor. Even with the additional House funds, some experts fear there will be inadequate resources for peacekeeping.

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