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The 43rd Anniversary of the Helms Amendment

Asking Obama to sign an Executive Order to help women raped in war

by Eva Marie Wüst Vestergaard

Tomorrow is the anniversary of the passing of the Helms Amendment. On this anniversary, the Global Justice Center is asking President Obama to sign an Executive Order that would clarify a misinterpretation of this policy. A misinterpretation, which prevents women raped in war from receiving safe abortion services.

The Helms amendment states, “no foreign assistance funds may be used to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions”.

The ban clearly stipulates it is referring to only abortion services as a “method of family planning” meaning it should not apply to cases that cannot be defined as methods of family planning. That would include instances of rape, incest, or if the “mother’s life would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term”. However, a Bush-era interpretation of the amendment did away with these exceptions, resulting in a total ban on abortion services around the world. The Obama administration has left this interpretation in place, and it is set to be continued by the Trump administration.

This misreading comes with serious consequences. It not only prevents foreign organizations that receive US funding from spending this funding on abortion services to rape victims, it also results in these organizations refraining from using other funding on such services in spite of having legal authorization to do so. This is due to the lack of a general clarification of what the policy allows and prohibits. This has a dangerous impact on rape victims in crisis settings who are faced with the choice of having to carry the child of their rapist or resort to unsafe abortions. This can result in extreme mental and physical problems for the victim’s health.

Therefore, before leaving office, Obama should sign an executive order clarifying how the Helms Amendment does not apply to cases that are not considered family planning. Even though this would be largely symbolic, it would be a move of great value, as it would force Trump to actively put these restrictions back in place. Trump would officially deny abortions to women raped in war and send the world a clear message on his stance on helping rape victims. Rape victims, such as the Yazidi women held captive and raped by ISIS – perpetrators that Trump himself has sworn to defeat.