The Helms Amendment Hurts Women & Must Be Fixed, Obama, And The Time Is Now

MADRID, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 28: A woman shouts claiming for her abortion right during a demonstration supporting reproductive rights for women on September 28, 2014 in Madrid, Spain. During an international day supporting the decriminalization of abortion, thousands of people have celebrated the Spanish government's new abortion law withdrawal and the resignation of Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon. The protesters are also against Spanish government intentions to restrict the reproductive rights of female teenagers. (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
Source: Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images News/Getty Images

In 1973, Congress passed the little-known Helms Amendment, barring overseas U.S. organizations and agencies from using foreign assistance funding for abortions as "a method of family planning" or to "motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions." The law even applies in countries where abortion is legal. Oh, and thanks to some creative interpretations of the law, funding is also prohibited in cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment. Because of the way Helms has been interpreted by the Obama administration, the Center for Reproductive Rights considers it "a complete ban on abortion-related services and information" as the administration doesn't allow for abortion coverage even in those extreme circumstances.

Helms hurts, period. That's why a coalition of reproductive rights and social justice groups, led by the Center for Reproductive Rights, is calling upon President Obama on Thursday to implement the 41-year-old policy in a way that better reflects the changing abortion laws across the globe. Although USAID says in its policy that it considers "saving the lives of women who suffer complications" from unsafe abortions a "high priority," reproductive rights activists believe the way to save lives is by preventing unsafe abortions — not by leaving women overseas without any option at all.

Obama doesn't need approval of Congress to implement the Helms Amendment so it covers safe abortion care in the cases of rape, incest, and when a woman's life is at risk. In fact, all he needs is his pen. The president has already done something similar in the past, rescinding the Mexico City Policy, which prohibited NGOs receiving federal funding from providing abortion care, in 2009. "This action is not only legal, but a moral imperative," the Center for Reproductive Rights said in a statement.

Data from the World Health Organization shows that nearly 50,000 women across the globe die each year because of an unsafe abortion, with the highest unsafe abortion rates occurring in South America and central Africa. Maybe it's time USAID delivers some actual aid to these women.

Here's how members of the #HelmsHurts campaign, including Planned Parenthood, Ipas, and Catholics for Choice, are urging Obama to take action against unsafe abortion.

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