As Congress heads into the August recess, the House and Senate have left a lot on the table to consider when they return in September.

The House and Senate Appropriations Committees passed their State and Foreign Operations spending bills last month. The House bill would provide $40.6 billion and the Senate bill would provide $50.6 billion, with both allocating over $8 billion to global health efforts. These efforts include HIV/AIDS programs, family planning and reproductive health, polio prevention, and assistance to combat malaria and tuberculosis. Noticeable differences included the lack of funding for the United Nations Children’s Fund from the House and a difference of about $700 million for contributions to other international organizations, including the World Health Organization.

Broadly recognized by many health advocates as a hindrance to family planning worldwide, the House also voted to reinstate the controversial Mexico City Policy (PDF) while the Senate bill moved to permanently repeal it. The policy blocks all non-governmental organizations that provide abortion services or educate the public on the need for safe abortions from receiving any federal funding, regardless of whether such activities were funded by non-U.S. sources.

“When it was in place, the global gag rule blocked funding for basic family-planning services, contraception and preventative care for women around the world,” stated Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) “The policy needs to be permanently repealed so that this funding isn’t jeopardized in the future and women have access to the reproductive care they need.”

In testimony to the House committee in 2007, a former director from the International Planned Parenthood Foundation stated that “If we signed the Global Gag Rule, we would breach the medical ethics of our staff by requiring them to withhold life-saving, medically necessary information from our clients – requirements that were being imposed by a foreign government.”

Full House and Senate votes have yet to be scheduled.

Read more Public Health Newswire coverage on international health issues.