Pro-life members of Congress outmaneuvered President Clinton for one of the rare occasions during his seven years in the White House, and only a small percentage of United States funds for international family planning will go to abortion advocacy organizations as a result.

When the president signed into law a budget bill that included $385 million for family planning overseas, he accepted a restriction that no more than $15 million could go to organizations that perform or promote abortion in foreign countries even if he waived the limitation. One day later, he signed the waiver, leaving 96 percent of the funds off limits to abortion advocacy groups.

The restriction on family planning funds was part of legislation providing more than $900 million in United Nations back dues the Clinton administration had requested. Last year, the president vetoed similar U.N. funding legislation because it included a prohibition on funds for abortion advocacy groups overseas. This time, faced with the potential loss of the United States' seat in the U.N. General Assembly, Clinton accepted the restriction with compromise language he could make up to 4 percent of the total available for abortion advocates.

It marked the first time since Clinton took office in 1993 funds for abortion advocates overseas have been restricted. It also reinstituted a ban, known as the Mexico City Policy, initiated in 1984 by President Reagan and maintained until Clinton issued an executive order the same week of his inauguration rescinding the prohibition.

"We never abandoned the hope of restoring these effective pro-life safeguards for unborn children in developing countries around the world," said Rep. Chris Smith (R.-N.J.)

The legislation "establishes a bright line of demarcation between those groups that support family planning and those that cannot divest themselves from the grisly business of abortion," Smith said in a written release. "American taxpayers do not want their money going to private groups that advertise themselves as family planners but are in fact performers and promoters of abortion around the world.

"Our goal is to limit the exportation of abortion, and this legislation helps us accomplish that."

Smith had attempted to restore the funding ban on abortion advocates since 1995, but in previous years either Clinton vetoed it or it was dropped in Congress because of a veto threat.

Ben Mitchell, a consultant on biomedical and life issues for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said, "Chris Smith and other pro-life representatives should be applauded for their vigilant stand for the unborn."

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright criticized the restriction and said the president would seek next year to restore international family planning funds to their 1995 level of about $540 million. She will "fight hard for that request and to see that the restrictions in this year's appropriations bill expire as scheduled next September," Albright said at a news conference.

"The president came into office with a whirlwind of executive orders expanding abortion on demand, and he seems dedicated to leaving office the same way," said Mitchell, an assistant professor of bioethics and contemporary culture at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. "In his mind, the restrictions [on family planning organizations] are only a necessary evil. His promise to wipe future restrictions from the budget should alert everyone to prepare for a barrage of pro-abortion policy at the end of his tenure as president."

Smith said he will work to make sure Clinton's fidelity to abortion advocates does not undercut the latest pro-life accomplishment. Smith is chairman of the House of Representatives subcommittee that oversees international family planning.

"This language is airtight," Smith said. "Still, I am a student of Ronald Reagan's policy of trust and verify. ... I will hold hearings and inspect every document to ensure that the president and his people do not circumvent the spirit or letter of the compromise."

When Clinton signed the legislation November 29 that included the restrictive language, it marked one of the most unusual of occurrences in his White House: Failure to abide by abortion advocates' wishes.

Two days after he took office in 1993, he rescinded the Mexico City policy and other pro-life rules in force during the Reagan and Bush administrations. His faithfulness to the platform of abortion advocates has been a theme of his presidency, even though he has disappointed nearly every other part of his electoral base. For once, abortion rights organizations were disappointed with Clinton.

Not only did the measure harshly restrict the funds available to abortion advocates, but when the president signed the waiver, a provision reducing the family planning total also took effect. A transfer of $12.5 million of the $385 million went to a child-survival fund to immunize children overseas against polio, diphtheria and other diseases.

Related Elsewhere

See Rep. Chris Smith's full statement on his Web site.