President Obama

Still has time to fix the Helms Amendment and stand up for women worldwide.

Helms Hurts

Helms: A broken policy


Everyone deserves access to safe, legal and affordable abortion care. Sadly, the U.S. government imposes numerous restrictions on funding for abortion services in the United States and overseas. One such restriction is the harmful Helms amendment.

The Helms amendment, named after the late anti-choice senator Jesse Helms (R-NC), is a policy that prevents women overseas from receiving comprehensive abortion care. Attached to the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 and often reiterated in the annual appropriations bill, the amendment prohibits the use of U.S. foreign assistance funds to provide abortion care as a “method of family planning.” This prevents nongovernmental organizations and community organizations from being able to provide the abortion care their communities want and need, even in countries where abortion is legal or less restricted. It also bars health care providers from using U.S. funding to procure lifesaving equipment or drugs.

The United States is one of the world’s largest financiers of global health assistance. For communities that rely on U.S. assistance, this policy creates a significant barrier to care and restricts the liberties of those seeking reproductive health care. Unlike other federal policies, it has also become an extreme restriction on support for abortion care, which has been implemented as an all-out ban with no exceptions made in cases of rape, incest or when a pregnancy endangers the pregnant person's life.

An estimated 299,000 women die each year in developing countries from pregnancy-related causes, and millions more suffer debilitating injuries. The majority of these deaths are preventable, particularly ones from unsafe abortion, a leading cause of maternal deaths.

The U.S. government should not stand between people and vital medical care, especially in countries where access is already often limited. U.S. foreign assistance works to improve the health, safety and dignity of all people — but denying safe abortion access undermines these values.

Congress has the power to put an end to the Helms amendment by passing the Abortion is Health Care Everywhere Act. This legislation, led by Senator Hirono and Representative Schakowsky, would amend the Foreign Assistance Act to permanently repeal the Helms provision and include language that says U.S. funding can be used for “comprehensive reproductive health services, including abortion services, training and equipment.” The Abortion is Health Care Everywhere Act provides Congress a critical opportunity to support reproductive health by affirming U.S. commitment to ending unsafe abortion abroad.

Will you join us in calling on Congress to demonstrate its commitment to justice for pregnant people globally by eliminating the Helms amendment? Email your representatives today or tweet at them using #HelmsHurts. Help us tell Congress to pass the Abortion is Health Care Everywhere Act and put an end to the harmful Helms amendment.

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Every 11 minutes a woman dies from an unsafe abortion. The time to act is now.
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