In moving up the payment of family planning funds to March 1 from July 1, Congress authorized the release of about $385 million this fiscal year for international organizations that manage the programs worldwide.
Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, in a letter to Congress, said a delay in releasing the money until July would have forced at least 17 programs to sharply curtail or shut down their operations. American-subsidized family planning agencies serving about 700,000 people would have been damaged in several countries, including Bolivia, Ecuador and the Philippines, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D., Vt.) said.
``As a result,'' Albright wrote, ``unintended pregnancies will rise, maternal and infant deaths will be more numerous, and abortions will increase.''
But antiabortion proponents argued that, even though U.S. law bans the direct use of U.S. dollars to finance abortions abroad, the family planning agencies can use more of their own money for abortions.
``It goes without saying that when the U.S. government pays for administrative and other expenses of these groups, funds from other sources are freed up for activities that otherwise would be a violation of U.S. law,'' said Sen. Jesse Helms (R., N.C.). ``I refuse to be a part of a scheme leading to the deliberate destruction of . . . unborn babies.''
Other opponents of the President's request insisted that they would support it if Clinton was willing to reinstate a Reagan-era policy - called the ``Mexico City Policy'' - of denying family planning funding to any international organization that performed or advocated abortions, even if they used their own money.
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) acknowledged the value of U.S. support for family planning services overseas. But he also said that reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy would not hinder those efforts. Separate legislation to do that has already passed the House, but it was not clear yesterday whether Senate leaders planned to call it up there. Even if it passed both houses, Clinton would probably veto it.
``Virtually all of the [17 threatened projects] could be fully funded because they are carried out now by organizations which meet the criteria of not supporting abortion or efforts to legalize abortion,'' McConnell said. ``I cannot and will not vote to provide funds to organizations which in the name of family planning take the lives of unborn children.''