U.S. Democratic lawmakers vote to repeal global gag rule on abortion

NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Democratic U.S. lawmakers voted on Wednesday to repeal a rule slashing global access to abortion and to restore worldwide family planning programs, aiming to reverse measures put in place by Republican President Donald Trump.

Also approved by the Democratic-led House of Representatives was funding for government programs to protect LGBT+ rights.

The measures were contained in an extensive $983 billion fiscal year 2020 spending bill for the U.S. government’s State, Labor, Health and Human Services and other departments.

Before any money is spent, however, Republicans who control the U.S. Senate are likely to craft a bill that does not embrace the House Democrats’ initiatives.

Negotiations between the House and Senate are likely to extend for several weeks, if not months, and the White House is also likely to weigh in.

“This bill will help American workers, families, and communities access education, job training, health care, and other tools and services that will give them a better chance at a better life,” said Democratic Representative Nita Lowey, chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, in a statement.

The initiatives included permanent repeal of the so-called global gag rule, a policy that bans U.S.-funded groups around the world from discussing abortion, making them accept the restriction or reject it and lose funding.

The controversial policy has forced the closure of health clinics, outreach programs and refugee services by charities, risking the health of millions of women, reproductive rights experts said.

Used by presidents in the United States for decades to signal their stance on abortion rights, the rule has been backed by Republicans and revoked by Democrats.

Trump reinstated the gag rule on his fourth day in office in January 2017.

“We applaud the House for passing this important bill that will repeal the disgraceful global gag rule,” said Brian Dixon, spokesman for the Population Connection Action Fund, a family planning and reproductive health care group.

“The Trump administration’s assault on reproductive health and rights is having devastating consequences for people around the world,” he said in a statement.

The House voted to restore $55.5 million in U.S. funding to the United Nations Population Fund, the international body’s agency focused on family planning. Funding was ended soon after Trump took office.

It also called on the State Department to include violations of women’s reproductive rights and reporting on LGBT+ discrimination in its annual report on global human rights.

The spending bill contained $165 million to prevent gender-based violence, increased funding to fight child marriage and included money for the State Department’s Global Equality Fund designed to protect LGBT+ rights.