Members of Congress call for easing restrictions on abortion in U.S. foreign aid

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Members of the U.S. Congress today released a letter sent to President Barack Obama, urging him to loosen restrictions on safe abortion care in U.S. foreign assistance, known as the Helms Amendment. The letter, signed by Reps. Eliot Engel and Jan Schakowsky and 79 other members, calls on the President to clarify that U.S. law permits exceptions to the Helms Amendment in cases of rape, incest or when a pregnancy threatens a woman’s life.

The Helms Amendment, passed by Congress in 1973, prevents U.S. foreign assistance from being used to support “abortion as a method of family planning.” The amendment persists despite the continued public health threat posed by unsafe abortion, which kills 47,000 women each year – almost entirely in developing countries – and injures millions more.

“We urge you to act immediately to end the overly restrictive and extremely harmful implementation of the Helms amendment,” the letter reads, “and in doing so, to help save the lives of women and girls around the world.”

The call from members of Congress joins appeals from humanitarian organizations in the United States and around the world, as well as faith leaders, who have also called on President Obama to correct the implementation of the Helms Amendment.

“It is frustrating that such broad support exists for this simple, but important change, and yet we have not seen action yet,” said Jamila Taylor, senior policy advisor at Ipas. “We wish President Obama could speak to the providers we work with in countries like Kenya or Ethiopia who must face women in their emergency wards with complications of unsafe abortion.”

Before his recent trip to Kenya, 15 Kenyan agencies also reached out to the President, encouraging him to elevate women’s health and rights on his agenda, particularly the need for safe abortion care. “Every year over 2,600 Kenyan women and girls die of complications due to unsafe abortion – one-third of all maternal deaths,” the letter read.

“It couldn’t be clearer that change is long overdue,” said Taylor.