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Helms Amendment Hurts Women Worldwide

The Helms Amendment has been restricting women’s access to much-needed health care for more than 40 years. It’s time for a change. Here’s why.

History of the Helms Amendment

When it got on the books: This policy was passed as an amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act in 1973 as part of a wave of anti-abortion backlash to the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision of the same year.

What it says: The amendment prohibits the use of U.S. foreign assistance funds for the performance of abortion “as a method of family planning.”

Its legacy: Since it was enacted, this harmful policy has restricted women in some of the poorest countries in the world from accessing vital, lifesaving health care they need. 

Its Impact Today: This situation has been made even worse by the fact that U.S. global health programs are now even more restrictive than what is required by law.

How Helms Hurts Women

U.S. foreign policy prohibits funding abortion only “as a method of family planning,” but global health funding programs currently extend beyond the letter of the law by interpreting this to prohibit funding for all abortion — even in the cases of rape, incest or a life-endangering pregnancy.

Even in countries where abortion is legal, barriers to accessing care include women's lack of knowledge about their rights, cultural stigma, financial hardship, geographic obstacles, and limited numbers of trained health care providers. The Helms Amendment adds an additional barrier to accessing this care.

White House: Fix This Harmful Policy!

The White House can’t overturn the entire harmful law on its own, but it can — and must — fix this policy of turning women away in these exceptional circumstances. U.S. programs should be part of the solution, not the problem. Planned Parenthood is calling on the White House to correct this error immediately.

No woman should be turned away from the care she needs, especially when she is raped or faces a pregnancy which threatens her life.

No woman or girl should be forced to drop out of school because she was raped and became pregnant.

No woman should be left to die from complications of unsafe abortion, when a safe and legal abortion is available in her own country.

White House: You can’t fix the whole world, but you can fix this policy. We’re counting on you!

Four Facts You Need to Know

#1) One in Three

One in three women in the world will experience violence in her lifetime, many before the age of 18. In some countries that figure can be as high as 70%. High rates of violence contribute to unintended pregnancy, complications in pregnancy, unsafe abortion, and maternal deaths in parts of the world where health systems remain weak and women and communities lack access to quality care.

#2) Conflict Areas

Rates of gender-based violence are especially high in areas of conflict and crisis, where rape is used as a tool of war, and in displaced communities such as refugee camps. 

#3) Young Women

Young women are particularly vulnerable to both violence and unintended pregnancy, which forces many young women to give up school or become mothers before they are ready.

#4) 20 million unsafe abortions & 47,000 deaths

Worldwide, there are more than 20 million unsafe abortions every year that lead to millions of injuries and 47,000 deaths.

Country in Focus: Kenya

  • 32% of women experience some form of sexual violence before the age of 18. 
  • For many young women, these assaults lead to pregnancy when they are still girls themselves.
  • One in three Kenyan women raped before the age of 18 became pregnant as a result of violence.
Learn More
For more on the Helms Amendment, read "Time for U.S. to Support Abortion for Rape Victims in Other Countries," by Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards.