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12.21.11 - Noting that current restrictions on foreign aid for abortion services go beyond even those imposed by the highly restrictive Helms Amendment—cutting off access to critical and potentially life-saving services for millions of women in the developing world—the Center for Reproductive Rights and Ipas join with the 12 members of Congress who today issued a letter calling on President Barack Obama to lift all restrictions that exceed the mandate of the 1973 law.
Despite provisions allowing foreign-assistance funding for abortion services under certain circumstances, for almost 40 years the Helms Amendment has been implemented improperly as a total ban on all abortions. The law permits funding for abortion services that are not for the purpose of “family planning,” including those necessary to save a woman’s life, or in cases of rape or incest. Another law clarifies that the Helms Amendment permits the provision of information and counseling about abortion.
“For nearly 40 years, the Helms Amendment has been causing irreparable harm to women worldwide, and should be repealed. But until then, the Obama Administration should at the very least halt all restrictions that exceed its toxic mandate,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO for the Center for Reproductive Rights. “The United States has a responsibility to uphold the fundamental human rights of women in every nation, and should never be in the position of denying safe and legal abortion services to those who have suffered sexual violence or whose lives are at risk.”
Research by Ipas and other organizations in Nepal, Ghana, Ethiopia, and other countries has documented the harms arising from the lack of clear guidance on permissible activities with U.S. funding.
“If a woman is served by a U.S.-funded family planning program, and if she experiences an unwanted pregnancy due to contraceptive failure or other reasons, she receives no counseling on her options, nor does she receive a referral for a safe and legal abortion if that’s what she wants. It’s time to stop gagging physicians and health workers and interfering with countries’ implementation of their own laws,” said Elizabeth Maguire, President and CEO of Ipas, and former Director of the USAID international family planning program from 1993-1999.
The 12 members of the House of Representatives who signed today’s letter urged the President to fulfill his promise to promote global health with U.S. foreign assistance by ensuring that implementation of the Helms Amendment does not jeopardize the health and lives of women overseas.