The House voted narrowly Thursday to reverse a ban on contraception aid to groups overseas that offer abortions, a pillar of President Bush's foreign aid policy.
Bush is likely to swiftly veto the proposal and be upheld by conservative lawmakers who say no assistance of any kind should be given to organizations that promote or offer abortions.
The measure, approved 223-201, is intended by the new Democratic majority to crack open debate on a policy it says is failing badly.
Initiated by President Reagan in 1984 at a population conference in Mexico City, the policy bars any assistance to organizations abroad that perform or promote abortion as a method of family planning.
Democrats say an unintended consequence is an alarming shortage of contraceptives, particularly in poor rural areas.
The bill would help "reduce unintended and high-risk pregnancies and abortions ... and save the lives of mothers," said Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., who chairs the House appropriations panel that oversees the foreign aid budget.
"It is simply not enough to say you support family planning, so long as the current restrictions remain in law," Lowey said.
The House voted to attach the measure to a $34.2 billion bill that pays for State Department operations and foreign aid in 2008.
Lowey initially drafted legislation in such a way that would have guaranteed funds to any group so long as the assistance included funding for contraceptives.
Facing stiff opposition to the plan, Lowey drafted the amendment that passed to restrict the aid to U.S.-donated contraceptives.
Republicans still bristled at the proposal because they said the donation would free up resources for groups to provide abortions.
They also said it would undermine the intention of the Mexico City policy, which is intended to pressure organizations to abandon abortion services.
"The Mexico policy exists to draw a bright line between U.S. family planning policy and abortion," said Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa.
"However, it appears that there are some out there who wish to blur this line, (which) is what leads to coercive abortions and forced sterilizations."
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