The Senate voted yesterday to reverse Bush administration regulations that prohibit federally supported family planning clinics from offering information on abortion.
The regulations, which are the subject of a case before the Supreme Court, were imposed in 1988 by the Reagan administration and continued after President Bush took office. They have become the focus of debate between both sides of the abortion issue.
The Senate voted 63 to 35 to approve an amendment by Sen. John Chafee (R-R.I.) that says the clinics must provide "information and counseling concerning all legal and medical options" to pregnant women who ask for it, including "pregnancy termination."
The clinics provide health care and family planning services for the poor. The amendment was added to a Senate bill that extends the life of the family planning program, established 20 years ago by Title X of the Public Health Service Act.
Opponents of abortion opposed the amendment, arguing that the federal government should not encourage abortions or make them more available. "Most Americans do not want their tax dollars used in any way to facilitate abortions," said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah).
Advocates of abortion rights argued that the regulatory ban discriminated against poor women, preventing them from having the same information that women who could afford their own doctor would receive.
"This program isn't about abortion. It's about options," said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.). "Whether it's abstinence, adoption or abortion, I believe young people have a right to know."
Since enactment in 1970, Title X has prohibited aid from going to "programs where abortion is a method of family planning." But until 1988 that was interpreted as barring the use of federal money to pay for abortions.
The Reagan administration's Department of Health and Human Services in 1988 adopted a broader interpretation that said federal money could not go to family planning programs that provide counseling and referral for abortion.
The action touched off a series of lawsuits, and federal appeals courts have delivered conflicting rulings.