Reps. Pressley, Schakowsky, Colleagues Introduce First-Ever Bill to Repeal the Helms Amendment, a 47-Year-Old, Anti-Choice Policy Restricting Abortion Access Around the Globe

July 29, 2020
Press Release

Bill Text (PDF) | One Pager (PDF)

WASHINGTON – Congresswomen Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), Chair of the Pro-Choice Caucus’s Abortion Rights and Access Task Force, and Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), a Senior Chief Deputy Whip and Chair of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus Providers and Clinics Task Force, today introduced the Abortion is Health Care Everywhere Act of 2020, the first-ever legislation to repeal the Helms Amendment and expand abortion access globally. Representatives Nita Lowey (NY-17), Barbara Lee (CA-13), Jackie Speier (CA-14), Diana DeGette (CO-01), and Norma Torres (CA-35) joined Congresswomen Pressley and Schakowsky as original cosponsors.

“Abortion care is health care and health care is a fundamental human right. For too long, anti-choice policy, including the Helms Amendment and the Hyde Amendment, has dictated who has access to critical healthcare, economic opportunity and bodily autonomy. We must be consistent in our calls to dismantle racist policies that perpetuate inequities and exacerbate health disparities for Black and brown people here in the United States and around the globe,” said Congresswoman Pressley. “I am proud to join Congresswoman Schakowsky in this fight to affirm abortion rights and reproductive justice for all.”

“The Helms Amendment is a policy deeply rooted in racism. It imposes our arbitrary and medically unnecessary abortion restrictions on international communities, allowing the United States to control the health care and bodily autonomy of billions Black and brown people around the world. Just like the Hyde Amendment, the Helms Amendment puts reproductive and economic freedom out of reach for women of color. But enough is enough, and both amendments must fall if we want to realize true health equity and reproductive justice,” said Congresswoman Schakowsky. “I am proud that my sisters Representatives Lowey, Lee, Speier, Pressley, DeGette, and Torres are joining me to introduce the Abortion is Health Care Everywhere Act, which will finally repeal the Helms Amendment. Comprehensive reproductive health care, including safe, legal, and accessible abortion, is a human right.”

Enacted in 1973, the Helms Amendment bars U.S. foreign assistance funding for abortion and has been passed as part of Congressional appropriations bills every year for nearly five decades. The legislation was first introduced by then Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC), who was known for racist legislative efforts throughout his career. As the United States grapples with systemic inequities and engages in a national conversation about racial injustice, the Helms Amendment is yet another example of a systemic, racist policy that has become commonplace in society. In the case of the Helms Amendment, the U.S. uses foreign policy and promises of foreign aid to control the health care and bodily autonomy of Black and brown people around the world.

“The Helms Amendment is a shameful policy. It is long past time to repeal it and ensure that women everywhere, in particular women of color who are disproportionately harmed by this restriction, have access to a full range of safe, legal reproductive health services,” said Appropriation Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey. “As a longtime advocate of women’s health, I know the Abortion is Health Care Everywhere Act will make a huge difference in advancing women’s rights. With this bill, we can enable and empower women around the world to make fully-informed decisions about their own health and that of their families.”

 “While many countries have made inroads toward increased reproductive freedoms over the past two decades, the U.S. continues to restrict aid through the Helms Amendment, making safe abortions out of reach and putting millions of lives at risk,” said Rep. Lee, Co-Chair of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus. “Each year, millions of people around the world have unsafe abortions, leading to debilitating injuries. As co-chair of the Pro-Choice Caucus, I strongly support ending this discriminatory and dangerous policy.

“The Helms Amendment not only denies women around the world the right to control their own bodies and lives, it disproportionately harms women of color in developing countries. It’s a throwback to Republicans’ cruelest calculations and instincts in light of the 1973 landmark Roe v Wade decision and red meat to the President’s base. These people would rather see women die from botched and unsafe procedures than provide basic health care to avoid 25 million unsafe abortions worldwide that lead to millions of injuries and at least 22,800 preventable maternal deaths. Where is the humanity, or even the logic, in this policy?,” said Rep. Speier, Co-Chair of the Democratic Women’s Caucus. “I applaud Congresswoman Schakowsky’s courage in taking on this longstanding issue, and I’m proud to join her and our colleagues in introducing the Abortion is Health Care Everywhere Act of 2020 to finally repeal the blatantly misogynistic and racist Helms Amendment.”

“Abortion is health care, period,” said Rep. DeGette, Co-Chair of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus. “Every year, the lives of millions of women around the world are needlessly put at risk by the performance of unsafe abortions. This legislation will remove the barriers that have prevented the U.S. from helping to provide these women access to safe and comprehensive reproductive care.”

“The Helms Amendment uses vital U.S. foreign assistance as a tool to deny women, especially Black and brown women around the world of autonomy over their own medical decisions,” said Rep. Torres, Vice Chair of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus. “It creates barriers to receiving a safe abortion for some of the most vulnerable people around the world. I’m proud to stand with Rep. Schakowsky to demand an end to the Helms Amendment with the Abortion is Health Care Everywhere Act, and I urge my colleagues to support it.”

“While U.S. foreign aid has been critical for communities across Kenya, restricting funds for abortion has been harmful to the health and autonomy of people across the country. Because of these restrictions, too often, an unsafe abortion from someone without training becomes the only option,” said Dr. Ernest Nyamato, a Kenyan doctor who leads Ipas’s Quality of Care global team and is former director of the Ipas Africa Alliance in Kenya. “As someone who has worked in multiple roles in health and human rights, I see just how critical comprehensive health care, including abortion is, for people, their families, and their communities. Unfortunately, we are already seeing health inequities grow due to COVID-19 and people using the crisis to try to eliminate abortion access. Global support must help prioritize women’s health care, not perpetuate barriers that make it harder for people to get the health care they need.”

Health systems worldwide are already overwhelmed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to a reduction in access to sexual and reproductive health care in many countries, despite the fact that abortion care is time sensitive. The Helms Amendment is poised to further exacerbate these disparities and put critical health care out of reach for millions across the globe.

“Having lived through other health crises, I know that women and girls often suffer disproportionately. COVID-19 has devastated many of the communities where I work, and now is not the time to further limit people’s options,” said Monica Oguttu, an international women’s rights advocate, Kenyan midwife with decades of experience, founder of Kisumu Medical and Education Trust in Kenya, and an Ipas board member. “My patients can’t afford more red tape right now, and I ask that the U.S. government help, not harm Kenyan people.”

The Helms amendment is related to, but distinct from, the global gag rule (also known as the ‘Mexico City policy’), an executive order that prohibits foreign organizations that receive U.S. global health assistance from using non-U.S. funding to provide abortion services, information, counseling, or referrals and from engaging in advocacy to expand abortion access. Both policies are discriminatory and deeply unjust.

The Abortion is Health Care Everywhere Act of 2020 is endorsed by more than 115 organizations, including Advocates for Youth, American Jewish World Service, Catholics for Choice, Center for Reproductive Rights, CHANGE (Center for Health and Gender Equity), Guttmacher, International Center for Research on Women, Ipas, International Women’s Health Coalition, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Open Society Policy Center, PAI, Population Connection Action Fund, Population Institute, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America. More information can be found at repealhelms.org and quotes from several of these organizations can be found HERE. 

As Chair of the Pro-Choice Caucus’s Abortion Rights and Access Task Force, Congresswoman Pressley has fought to protect comprehensive reproductive health care for all, including abortion care. Last week, she introduced an amendment to repeal the anti-choice Hyde Amendment from the FY21 Labor-HHS Appropriations bill. In May, she led more than 155 Members of Congress in calling on House Democratic leadership to ensure that any future COVID-19 relief packages rejected Republican efforts to use the public health crisis to diminish abortion access. Last May, she led more than 100 colleagues in introducing H.Con.Res.40, a resolution reaffirming the House of Representative’s support for Roe v. Wade. Last June, Rep. Pressley introduced H.R. 3296, the Affordability is Access Act, to make oral contraception available without a prescription.

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