NGOs from around the world call on President Obama to fix the Helms Amendment

Monday, January 26, 2015

On January 22nd, the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion in the United States, more than 143 organizations from 34 countries, including many with global and regional reach, called on President Barack Obama to correct the implementation of the Helms Amendment. The 1973 Helms Amendment bans the use of U.S. foreign assistance to provide abortion “as a method of family planning.” However, the Helms Amendment has been applied for decades as a total ban on abortions in U.S aid overseas, even in cases of rape and life endangerment. 

The letter states, “In many countries receiving U.S. assistance, women and girls face high rates of sexual violence, limited access to trained healthcare providers, and other barriers to accessing care. We ask that you take immediate steps to end the harmful implementation of the Helms Amendment in order to save the lives and health of tens of thousands of women in developing nations.”

Restrictions on abortion care also exist for women in the United States whose health care is covered by the federal government – such as women covered by Medicaid or members of the military – but with a notable difference: exceptions in cases of rape, incest or risk to life.

“The Helms Amendment must ultimately be repealed by Congress, but the President can legally take immediate action at least to bring the policy in line with other U.S. abortion restrictions,” said Elizabeth Maguire, President and CEO of Ipas.  “The President has strong support not only from a large coalition of organizations representing a broad spectrum of American voters but also from groups overseas that cannot understand the double standard represented by the current restrictive implementation of the Helms Amendment.  We think this letter sends a strong message to the President about the moral obligations of the United States and the need to stop imposing U.S. abortion politics on women and families overseas.”

According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, more than 60 percent of the world’s population live in countries with some legal indications for abortion. Yet 21 million women have an unsafe abortion each year, and millions will be injured.