Dozens of House Democrats are hoping to expand worldwide access to abortion by allowing U.S. foreign aid to be used for abortion services in any country that receives it.
For several decades now, Congress has explicitly prohibited U.S. foreign aid from being used for abortion, under the 1973 Helms amendment to the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act, from former Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C. That language says “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.”
Democrats are looking to eliminate the provision that Planned Parenthood has described as a policy that “hurts millions of people worldwide.”
This week, Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and nearly 150 House Democrats proposed the “Abortion Is Health Care Everywhere Act,” which would repeal the Helms Amendment and open up the possible use foreign aid to facilitate millions of abortions around the world each year.
“For nearly 50 years, the racist, harmful Helms amendment has barred U.S. foreign assistance from being used to offer abortion care, even in countries where abortions are legal,” Schakowsky said in a statement. “The United States should not stand in the way of health care and bodily autonomy in other countries.”
Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, has said the restriction on funding for overseas abortion “hurts millions of people” every year.
“We must protect women’s health around the globe,” she added. “By singling out abortion as a restricted health service, the Helms Amendment reinforces efforts to criminalize abortion and heightens abortion-related stigma.”
Schakowsky’s statement cited data from the Guttmacher Institute that said repealing the Helms amendment would lead to “19 million fewer unsafe abortions” each year.
Another sponsor of the bill, Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., said “abortion care is health care,” and that the Helms amendment is therefore denying women health care around the world.
“The Helms Amendment is yet another barrier preventing millions – particularly in the global south – from accessing safe and legal abortion care, and we must reverse course,” she said.
In addition to this new effort to boost abortion access overseas, Democrats have been pushing for expanded access to abortion domestically since last year, when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and gave authority over abortion back to the states. Several Democrats have proposed laws and regulations making it easier for people to cross state lines to receive abortions in states with more liberal rules for the procedure than their home state.
The Pentagon has also announced a policy of reimbursing service members for their travel expenses when they need to travel for an abortion. That policy has been met with an investigation by House Republicans and the introduction of legislation to prohibit the Defense Department from offering this benefit.