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Strickland Introduces Legislation To Protect Reproductive Health Rights Worldwide By Repealing the Harmful Helms Amendment

March 9, 2021

Washington, D.C. — In commemoration of International Women’s Day and during Women’s History Month, Congresswoman Marilyn Strickland (WA-10) introduced the Abortion is Health Care Everywhere Act with Representatives Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Jackie Speier (D-CA), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Diana DeGette (D-CO), Norma Torres (D-CA) and over 140 original cosponsors. This historic legislation would repeal the Helms Amendment, which attacks reproductive rights by banning the use of U.S. foreign assistance funds on abortion services overseas. Repealing the Helms Amendment is a critical step toward achieving reproductive and economic freedom and equity for millions worldwide. The Abortion is Health Care Everywhere Act is supported and endorsed by a diverse coalition of more than 170 organizations

Please find the Op-Ed Strickland, Schakowsky, and DeGette published in The Hill at this link, and the bill text at this link.

“The right to choose is a fundamental right that impacts not only a person’s health and wellbeing, but their economic freedom,” said Strickland. “During a global pandemic and amid a maternal mortality crisis, the United States has a responsibility as a global leader to support public health, not worsen it. The Helms Amendment makes it impossible for millions to seek reproductive care - including routine preventative screenings. Through increasing cases of maternal mortality, and negative economic and medical consequences for patients everywhere, the case is clear--Helms must go. I am proud to introduce the Abortion is Health Care Everywhere Act with Congresswoman Schakowsky and over 140 of my colleagues to ensure reproductive health access for all.

“Since 1973, the Helms Amendment has prohibited any U.S. foreign aid from being used for ‘the performance of abortion as a method of family planning,’ said Schakowsky. “In practice, Helms has banned all U.S. foreign assistance funds from being used for any abortion care. As the largest government funder of global health, including family planning and reproductive health services, the United States should be stepping up and doing everything we can to prevent negative maternal health outcomes. But instead, we have archaic language that creates an arbitrary line between abortion and all other health-care services, limiting access to critical care, particularly in the Global South. It is plain wrong for the United States to force a health-care provider in another country to choose between limiting the care they can give to patients and keeping critical funding. Doctors pledge to do no harm.”

BILL SUMMARY:

The bill removes the Helms amendment from the Foreign Assistance Act and replaces it with proactive language stating that U.S. funding shall be used to provide comprehensive reproductive health care services and information including the provision of abortion services, training, and equipment. The bill also catalogs the extensive harm caused by the Helms Amendment to people worldwide; details the liberalization of abortion laws and policies around the world in recent decades; and specifies the health and economic benefits of ensuring that everyone who needs abortion care can access safe abortion services.

The bill would create a policy of the U.S. Government that:

  • Safe abortion is a critical component of comprehensive maternal and reproductive health care and should be included as part of foreign assistance programs funded by the United States government.
  • Safe abortion is to be made widely available and integrated with other types of health care.
  • The United States Government should work to end unsafe abortion and promote safe abortion services by providing funding and collaborating with affected governments and service providers.

BACKGROUND:

Since 1973, the Helms Amendment has prohibited any U.S. foreign assistance from being used for “the performance of abortion as a method of family planning” and been implemented as a total ban on U.S. foreign assistance funds being used for abortion services. The Helms Amendment is found in both the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, as amended, and annually in the State Department, Foreign Operations and Related Agencies Appropriations bill.

A new analysis from the Guttmacher Institute estimates that, if the Helms Amendment were repealed and U.S. support helped ensure that all abortions were provided safely in the countries where abortion is legal on at least some grounds and where the United States is already supporting family planning programs, there would be approximately 19 million fewer unsafe abortions and 17,000 fewer maternal deaths each year

The Biden-Harris Administration has taken positive steps to advance the sexual and reproductive health and rights of people everywhere but there is more to be done. Rescinding the Global Gag Rule on January 28 in the President’s memorandum on “Protecting Women’s Health At Home and Abroad” was the tip of the iceberg and just the start of what is needed from the White House and Congress to end the long tradition of harmful U.S. policies. Repealing the Helms Amendment is a critical step toward achieving reproductive and economic freedom and equity for millions worldwide.

More information can be found at www.repealhelms.org

Congresswoman Marilyn Strickland serves as a Member of the House Armed Services Committee and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

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Issues:Health