AS CONGRESS departs for vacation, it leaves foreign family-planning aid in somewhat better shape than it was a few weeks ago, but in considerably worse shape than a year ago.
On one front, conferees on the foreign aid authorization bill dropped all amendments affecting population aid in order to help the bill clear Congress. This had the positive effect of blocking House amendments cutting off U.S. support for United Nations population programs. But it also killed Senate efforts to reverse a recent administration policy denying aid to nongovernmental organizations that, using private funds, have any connection with legal abortions.
Under this policy, the Agency for International Development has already ended 17 years of support for the International Planned Parenthood Federation, the major provider of family-planning services in many developing countries. Actively applied, this policy could jeopardize almost all nongovernmental programs in foreign countries since they inevitably deal with local hospitals and other institutions that, under the laws of those countries, perform abortions or related services. Unfortunately, efforts by Sen. Nancy Kassebaum and others to overturn this policy have now been derailed.
On another front the House Appropriations Committee has voted to continue financing family-planning aid programs next year but to cut $30 million from the current level. That's a minuscule saving in terms of the deficit, but a very large loss in terms of infant and maternal deaths -- and abortions -- that this money could have prevented.
The committee bill also has an amendment denying U.S. aid to any organization that ''supports or participates in the management of a program of coercive abortion.''The amendment's author, Rep. Jack Kemp, has said he believes they give money to China, where coercive activities have been reported. The committee, however, added language first suggested by Sen. Daniel Inouye requiring that the president must first specifically determine that the organization is so involved -- a determinatiom that would be difficult inasmuch as AID investigated precisely this charge last year and gave U.N. programs a clean bill of health.
These actions leave the administration with considerable latitude. Unfortunately, events of the past year suggest that it will use that discretion to disrupt two decades of building international family-planning programs just when developing countries most need and want that help.