A monstrous policy is haunting United States foreign assistance and threatening the lives of women around the world. The Helms Amendment, which restricts the use of U.S. foreign aid dollars for abortion, was the brainchild of the late Jesse Helms, who spent three decades as a leader of the anti-choice movement in the U.S. Senate. Although the Senator retired in 2003, and passed away a few years later, this 1973 law has allowed him to continue to impact the lives of women from beyond the grave.
Complications resulting from unsafe abortion leads to the deaths of tens of thousands of women worldwide and many more suffer debilitating injuries from these procedures. The majority of these women live in the developing world, where unsafe abortion remains all too common, due to the lack of safe services available. The Helms amendment, by preventing the United States from supporting safe abortion where allowable under some or all circumstances, limits our nation’s ability to adequately address maternal mortality, not to mention limits women’s ability to exercise their reproductive rights.
As if all that isn’t scary enough, the policy is being even more strictly interpreted and implemented than it needs to be according to the law. The Helms amendment states that U.S. foreign assistance cannot be used to pay for abortion “as a method of family planning.” The administration has interpreted that as total ban on abortion services without exception — including in cases where the pregnancy is result of rape or incest, or when a woman needs an abortion because a pregnancy is endangering her life. For women in these cases, abortion is clearly not a method of family planning, and the administration shouldn’t interpret it as such.
PAI and other advocates of reproductive health and rights continue to work with champions on Capitol Hill to one day send the Helms amendment to its grave by having it repealed in its entirety. However, until that time the President can lessen the damage it can do, by reinterpreting the policy to make sure that at least the most vulnerable women — those who need an abortion due to rape, incest, or because their lives are in danger — have access to safe abortion care.
Will you help us rein in this monster of a policy? Share this tweet if you agree Congress shouldn’t play politics with the health and lives of women and girls.
The Helms Amendment is one of the five scariest policies on Capitol Hill for women worldwide. To encounter the other four, check out the full Return to a Nightmare on Capitol Hill site.
This blog post has been resurrected and updated for Return to A Nightmare on Capitol Hill. The original was published by PAI on Oct. 28th, 2014.