Advocates Tell Obama that #HelmsHurts Women Abroad

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Advocates Tell Obama that #HelmsHurts Women Abroad

Emily Crockett

Reproductive rights organizations are calling on President Obama to fix a global health policy that is restricting women's access to abortion more than the law actually requires.

Reproductive rights organizations are calling on President Obama to fix a global health policy that is restricting women’s access to abortion more than the law actually requires.

For 40 years, the Helms Amendment has forbidden the use of U.S. foreign assistance funds for abortion “as a method of family planning.” But it has long been interpreted to prohibit funding for all abortions without exception, including in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment.

Every other federal abortion coverage restriction includes exceptions for these extreme circumstances. Given that 47,000 women die yearly from unsafe abortion, mostly in developing countries, and given that rape is used as a weapon of war in conflict zones, advocates say it’s time for a change.

Reproductive rights groups, including Planned Parenthood, the Center for Reproductive Rights, Population Action International, and Ipas, started tweeting last week under the hashtag #HelmsHurts to spread the word about the harmful policy.

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“No woman should be forced to carry a pregnancy caused by a sexual assault or that threatens her life,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in an email to supporters.

Overturning the law entirely, which advocates say is still a needed step for the health of women and girls abroad, would take an act of Congress.

Congress recently expanded abortion coverage for Peace Corps volunteers in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment, bringing coverage in line with other federal policy. But fully repealing such a long-standing anti-choice measure is hard to imagine in the current GOP-controlled Congress.

In the meantime, advocates say, Obama can make sure the law is correctly interpreted and bring global policy in line with domestic policy.