WASHINGTON — Melinda Gates on Wednesday urged US lawmakers not to cut funding for family planning programs in developing countries, saying access to contraception can "save a huge number of lives."

"There is a lot of controversy in this country about reproductive health because of the issue of abortion, and it's appropriate to continue that dialogue because there are strong feelings on both sides," Gates said in a speech at the annual conference of CARE, a global anti-poverty group.

"But we must remember that there has long been a broad, bipartisan consensus on the need to give all women access to the contraceptives that women in rich countries use every day. It is vital to maintain that consensus," she added.

The CARE conference was held a few miles from Capitol Hill, where US Senators voted Wednesday on budget proposals from rival Republicans and Democrats on how to cut government spending and slash the huge US deficit.

The Republicans' budget proposal, which would completely remove funding for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) as just one measure to slash government outlays by some $61 billion, was rejected by the Senate Wednesday.

PPFA has had an international operation since 1971 and co-founded the International Planned Parenthood Federation.

A Democratic Party spending plan, which would trim a far more modest amount from the budget, also failed to win Senate approval.

Gates and her husband Bill, co-founder of Microsoft, chair a global philanthropy group that bears their name.

"Right now, more than 200 million women in the world who don't want to have a child, are not using contraceptives," Melinda Gates said.

"This is a problem we should be able to solve if we work together to give women the lifesaving tools they deserve."