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Global Justice Center Marks the 50th Anniversary of the Helms Amendment

On Sunday, the Global Justice Center will mark 50 years since the passage of the Helms Amendment, a United States foreign policy that restricts the funding of abortion services abroad. The amendment was passed on December 17, 1973 — just months after Roe v. Wade was decided by the United States Supreme Court.

Despite the language of the amendment only prohibiting US foreign aid funding of abortion as a “method of family planning,” Helms has been implemented as a total ban on abortion services. Reproductive rights activists have long urged US presidents to take executive action clarifying that Helms allows funding of abortion care abroad in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment of the pregnant person, including in humanitarian settings.

According to a Guttmacher Institute analysis, there could be approximately 19 million fewer unsafe abortions and 17,000 fewer maternal deaths each year if Helms were repealed.

Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center, issued the following statement:

“Five decades of death is the only way to summarize the legacy of the Helms Amendment. It is a primary cause of countless maternal deaths due to unsafe abortions around the world. It has fueled the destruction of critical healthcare networks as providers have been forced to make an untenable decision between losing essential funding or offering comprehensive medical care. Helms is nothing short of a human rights catastrophe that 10 presidential administrations have allowed to fester.

“Let’s be clear: the Helms Amendment is a violation of the human rights to health, life, non-discrimination, freedom from torture, and more. The denial of abortion as such has been recognized by everyone from medical experts to international human rights bodies. Yet, five decades later, Helms and its legacy of immense harm is ignored by US politicians, including those who claim to support reproductive rights.

“The Helms Amendment is the foundation of all abortion restrictions in US foreign policy, including the Global Gag Rule. Limiting its harmful impact — and ultimately, its repeal — must be a top priority for both the US reproductive rights movement and any lawmakers who are serious about positioning the United States as a leader on human rights. Because as long as Helms remains in place, the United States should be seen as a pariah state when it comes to reproductive rights.”