March 9, 2021

The reintroduction of the Abortion is Health Care Everywhere Act offers a chance to finally remove the Helms Amendment, a racist relic of US foreign policy, and restore US leadership on reproductive health and rights. 

Today, in commemoration of International Women’s Day, the Abortion is Health Care Everywhere Act was reintroduced to the US House of Representatives by Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and co-leads Representatives Barbara Lee (D-CA), Jackie Speier (D-CA), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Diana DeGette (D-CO), Norma Torres (D-CA) and Marilyn Strickland (D-WA).  

If passed, the bill would repeal the Helms Amendment, a racist policy that denies reproductive health and rights to women and girls around the world by restricting US funding for abortion care 

The Helms Amendment was signed into law as part of the Foreign Assistance Act on December 17, 1973 after being authored by then Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC), a politician well-known for his racist and discriminatory positions. The amendment prohibits the use of any US foreign assistance funds for “abortion as a method of family planning.” While the amendment allows US funding for abortion in the cases of rape, incest and life endangerment, in effect, it is implemented as a blanket ban on funding for abortion and denies millions of people in low and middle income countries the health care they need and want. 

The International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC) strongly supports the Abortion is Health Care Everywhere Act and is joined by more than 100 leading civil society organizations endorsing the bill’s passage. Originally introduced to US Congress last year, the bill enjoys considerable congressional support with more than 140 original co-sponsors. 

For more than 47 years the Helms Amendment, a racist and colonial relic, has denied pregnant people abroad their right to make decisions about their own health and lives. It has intentionally and unfairly limited access to safe and legal abortion services, costing some their lives,” said Shannon Kowalski, Director of Advocacy and Policy at IWHC.  

 It’s time for people worldwide to be able to access comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services without interference from the US Government. The Abortion Is Health Care Everywhere Act is an important and long-overdue step forward that will further US leadership on global health and human rights and will have a significant impact on the lives of women and girls worldwide. 

Restricting US foreign aid for abortion is harmful to the health and well-being of people around the world. Barriers to accessing abortion care too often mean that people’s only option is to seek an abortion in conditions that are considered unsafe—globally, more than 35 million people have abortions in unsafe conditions each year. As a result, tens of thousands of people die and millions more face dangerous injuries and complications. 

As the world continues to deal with the impacts of racism, regressive policies, and the COVID-19 pandemic on global health and sexual and reproductive health in particular, the Abortion is Health Care Everywhere Act will remove barriers to care and create an opportunity for a stronger and more integrated global health recovery. 

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Photo: Jonathan Torgovnik/Getty Images/Images of Empowerment