If you're feeling chatty, today's a good day to send a shout-out to Senate Democrats, most of whom voted this week to repeal the global gag rule.
The current policy, enacted by President Reagan, maintained by the first President Bush, axed by President Clinton and reinstated by the current President Bush on his first full day in office, bars U.S. aid to foreign organizations that provide abortions, referrals to abortion providers and/or abortion-related counseling, even if the organization funds those services with their own money. Democratic freshman Sens. Sherrod Brown, Ben Cardin, Amy Klobuchar, Claire McCaskill, Jon Tester, Jim Webb and Sheldon Whitehouse pitched in and voted to amend to the foreign operations bill to prohibit such "restrictive eligibility requirements." The amendment, put forward by Sen. Barbara Boxer, specifies that:
In determining eligibility for assistance authorized under part I of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961... foreign nongovernmental organizations shall not be ineligible for such assistance solely on the basis of health or medical services, including counseling and referral services, provided by such organizations with non-United States Government funds if such services do not violate the laws of the country in which they are being provided and would not violate United States Federal law if provided in the United States, and shall not be subject to requirements relating to the use of non-United States Government funds for advocacy and lobbying activities other than those that apply to United States nongovernmental organizations receiving assistance under part I of such Act.
It's all so ... logical. And, as the blog Bush v. Choice points out, "In the past, [choice advocates] have won similar votes in the Senate, but by much smaller margins... [Sens. Brown, McCaskill, Tester and Webb] all defeated anti-choice incumbents in the 2006 elections, who had voted against repealing the gag rule in the past." The upshot? "Elections matter."
(Funny side note: Checking out the vote summary, we can see another way in which elections matter. Sens. Biden, Clinton, McCain and Obama didn't vote on the amendment, because they're out campaigning. Their votes wouldn't have changed the result -- and Clinton and Obama did cosponsor Boxer's amendment -- but it's always bemusing to see future elections compete with present legislating.)
Of course, the flip side of "elections matter" is that our highest elected official has promised to veto the bill if it includes an attempt to overturn the global gag rule. So it's unlikely that we'll see any meaningful change this go-round. Still, the Los Angeles Times reads the amendment as "a sign of determination by Democrats to press for substantial changes in federal policies, even though they have only a narrow majority in the Senate." A small step, but encouraging news nevertheless.