Reducing the harm of U.S. foreign policies


The U.S. government has a major role to play in the global effort to fight unsafe abortion. But two key U.S. foreign policies—the Helms Amendment and the Global Gag Rule—diminish that role by restricting women’s access to abortion and contraception in developing countries around the world.

The Helms Amendment prohibits the use of U.S. foreign assistance funds to pay for abortion “as a method of family planning.” Despite the limited scope of the amendment’s language, the U.S. government has applied it as a complete ban on the use of funds for abortion-related services and information.

The Global Gag Rule (also known as the Mexico City policy) restricts foreign nongovernmental organizations that receive U.S. global health funds from engaging in abortion-related work. It has been expanded under President Trump and directs U.S. government agencies to apply an unprecedented global anti-abortion policy.

In partnership with reproductive rights advocates in the United States and around the world, Ipas calls for the repeal of these harmful policies. And as we fight for full repeal, we are working for measures to lessen the far-reaching and dangerous impact these policies have on the lives and health of women.

The Abortion is Health Care Everywhere Act, introduced in the U.S. Congress on July 29 by Democratic Representative Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, would repeal the Helms Amendment—a racist policy that for nearly 50 years has denied access to abortion services to Black and brown women living in low- and middle-income countries.

U.S. Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky: ‘It’s past time for the Helms Amendment to fall’

Read more from our conversation with Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky

U.S. Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky

The Helms Amendment

The Helms Amendment is a 1973 U.S. legislative restriction that hinders efforts to address unsafe abortion around the world. It prohibits the use of U.S. foreign assistance funds to pay for “abortion as a method of family planning.” In practice, however, it is being applied as a total ban on abortion-related services and information.

In developing countries around the world, this ties the hands of government officials, reproductive health providers and U.S.-funded organizations working to ensure women’s access to comprehensive reproductive health care. In order to prevent a possible cut-off of U.S. funding, they avoid the provision of any services, information or even counseling related to safe abortion.

Ipas is committed to advocating for full repeal of the Helms Amendment and is working to document its harmful impact—and to educate U.S. legislators on the harm it does to women and girls in some of the world’s poorest countries. Along with partners, we’ve been laying the groundwork for repeal and building evidence that the public supports a full repeal of the amendment.

Monica Oguttu

If the Helms law were repealed, USAID could save the lives of many women at all levels — poor women in the village or rich women. Women are suffering. [Without Helms] … money would go to save the lives of women without any controls.”

– Monica OguttuFounder/Executive Director, Kisumu Medical and Education Trust (Kenya), Ipas board member

Listen to Anu Kumar discuss the Helms Amendment on NC Policy Watch

Dr. Popular Gentle

Along with the government of Nepal and partners, we have worked to make abortion accessible and available and have made progress. Policies like the Helms Amendment not only cause logistical problems for abortion service delivery but fuel the stigma that surrounds abortion. And women and girls in Nepal bear that burden the most.”

– Dr. Popular Gentle, Director, Ipas Nepal

The Global Gag Rule

Ipas is working to document the terrible harm to women’s health and lives inflicted by the Global Gag Rule, which is already making it harder for women and girls around the world to exercise their right to safe, legal abortion care.

The Global Gag Rule is a U.S. policy that restricts foreign nongovernmental organizations that receive U.S. global health funds from engaging in abortion-related work—even if they are using their own funds. They are “gagged” from providing not only abortion services, but abortion counseling, referrals, medical advice, training and lobbying for the liberalization of abortion laws. This policy has been expanded under President Trump, and directs U.S. government agencies to apply an unprecedented global anti-abortion policy.

Since the day Roe v. Wade was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court on January 22, 1973, it has been vulnerable and under attack by anti-abortion activists and organizations who want to outlaw the procedure. Their interest in curbing women’s reproductive autonomy is not limited to U.S. domestic policy; the battle against Roe includes restricting how U.S. development aid is spent. The Global Gag Rule, reinstated by President Trump on January 23, 2017, is one of the most harmful policies, with wide-reaching health and legal consequences for women and girls. These anniversaries are an opportunity to recommit to keeping abortion legal in the United States and ensuring that women throughout the world have the right to access an abortion, without interference or bias from the U.S. government.”

– Gillian Kane, Ipas senior manager, policy

The Global Gag Rule doesn’t reduce abortion, it only makes abortion unsafe. What reduces the need for abortion is comprehensive sexuality education programs, access to contraceptives, and quality abortion services. The Global Gag Rule is a cruel policy, because it prevents the world’s most vulnerable women, the ones most in need of services, from receiving the information and care they have the right to.”

– María Antonetia Alacalde Castro, Director, Ipas Central America and Mexico

The Global Gag Rule harms women because it goes against the realization of women’s fundamental right to make informed decisions about their bodies and health. In Mozambique, we’ve seen a reduction in funding, a reduction in donated contraceptives—including condoms—and a reduction in cutting-edge leadership and technical expertise in the field of sexual and reproductive health and safe abortion.”

– Jorge Matine, Director, Ipas Mozambique

Trump’s war on reproductive freedom

Ipas President and CEO Anu Kumar talks about the global, national and local impacts of harmful US policies—including the Global Gag Rule—that destroy reproductive rights around the world.

Read her commentary

In this webinar, learn what US grantees can and cannot do under the Global Gag Rule, and how it impacts the work of Ipas and our partners

Proven again: Legal restrictions on abortion harm women’s health

The evidence has shown for years that restricting abortion does not prevent abortion—it simply pushes women to illegal and unsafe abortions. An important new study published in The Lancet Global Health further confirms those findings.

This brings new attention to the harm of legal and policy restrictions on abortion. Through the Helms amendment and the Global Gag Rule, the U.S. government is preventing poor people in developing countries from getting the health care they need, which leads to higher rates of unwanted pregnancy and unsafe abortion.”

– Patty Skuster, Ipas senior legal advisor