House of Representatives votes to repeal Helms Amendment

Earlier this week, the US House of Representatives voted to end the Helms Amendment. This harmful policy bans the use of US foreign aid funds for abortion care.  

What is the Helms Amendment? 

Passed in 1973, this amendment bans the use of US foreign aid funding for abortion care directly. The Helms Amendment states that abortion may not be funded “as a method of family planning.” The amendment was introduced by North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms in response to the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade. 

American global health funding programs such as USAID have interpreted the amendment broadly. It bans funds for abortion in cases of incest, rape or when a woman’s life is at risk. It’s also been used to prevent the purchase of supplies used for lifesaving care after unsafe abortions. 

As a result of this policy, poor women around the world are prevented from making the best choices for themselves and their families.  

Several women in head scarves stand outside, holding infants. Poor women in countries like Burkina Faso are denied abortion care under the Helms Amendment.
Women in Burkina Faso visit an MSI outreach site. The Helms Amendment prevents poor women from accessing safe abortion.

How would repealing Helms impact women? 

The United States is the single largest donor to healthcare programs worldwide. As a result, the Helms Amendment has a dramatic impact on women who rely on foreign aid for their healthcare. The consequences are dire for the 35 million women in low and middle-income countries who currently turn to unsafe abortion each year. 

The Guttmacher Institute estimates that repealing this policy would result in 19 million fewer unsafe abortions each year and 17,000 fewer deaths. Overall, deaths due to abortion countries where the US funds family planning programs and some abortion is legal would decline by a staggering 98 percent. 

What did Congress do this week? 

Every year since 1973, the Helms Amendment has been included as part of the annual spending bill. On July 28, the House of Representatives voted on the State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs spending bill without the amendment for the first time. 

This is a crucial step forward for abortion access worldwide. By removing the Helms Amendment from the spending bill, the House is ending this harmful policy. 

Women wait for reproductive health services at a clinic in Democratic Republic of Congo. Every year, 35 million women turn to unsafe abortion.

What happens next? 

While the House vote is an important step, the fight isn’t over. Next, the Senate will have to vote on a spending bill that excludes the Helms Amendment. Then, the House and the Senate will have to reconcile their spending bills into a final version. Finally, President Biden will have to sign the spending bill, officially repealing the Helms Amendment. 

To prevent lawmakers from enacting a new version of this policy at a later time, Congress is also considering legislation, the Abortion is Health Care Everywhere Act, to prohibit future restrictions on funding for abortion.  

We’re excited by this historic vote, and hope Congress will act quickly to protect access to safe abortion worldwide! 

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