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WASHINGTON, D.C., March 5 (C-Fam) – Since the Democrats took control of the U.S. Congress and presidency, abortion advocates have taken aim at pro-life laws, including the Helms Amendment, which prohibits U.S. family planning aid from being used to promote or provide abortions overseas. They have claimed that repealing the Helms Amendment would improve maternal health in foreign countries and even advance racial justice.

The Guttmacher Institute recently claimed that repealing Helms would result in 19 million fewer “unsafe” abortions per year and reduce maternal deaths due to “unsafe” abortions.  This is based on a set of 33 countries where the United States already supports family planning programs and in which abortion is legal under at least some grounds. It also assumes that “U.S. support helped ensure that all abortions were provided safely.”

However, Guttmacher presumes that the only way to reduce “unsafe” abortions is to replace them with “safe” ones, and does not specify whether the abortions the United States would ensure were performed “safely” includes only those that are legal. Many countries that receive assistance from the United States prohibit abortion in all but extreme cases, such as where the life of the mother is at stake or where the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. In such places, the vast majority of abortions currently occurring “unsafely” are already illegal, and the United States could not assist in making them “safe” without violating the sovereign laws of that country.

U.S. taxpayer funds already support maternal health and broader health programs in developing countries, including medical treatment for women suffering from complications from abortion, which is always legal to provide. The United States also assists countries in providing education and access to financial services for women overseas, including by the previous Trump administration’s initiative promoting women’s economic empowerment. These efforts, while not explicitly pro-life, can help provide pregnant women with more options and enable them to seek alternatives to abortion.

The Helms Amendment was added to the U.S. foreign assistance law in 1973, the same year when the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision made abortion on demand the law of the land across America. While offering his amendment in Congress, Senator Jesse Helms warned against “the United States becom(ing) the world’s largest exporter of death.”

Abortion advocates have tried to label the Helms Amendment as racist “because it largely affects developing countries in Africa.”  However, this could just as easily apply to any legal restriction or requirement placed on U.S. foreign assistance, which is directed toward countries with the greatest need, many of which are in Africa.

The Guttmacher Institute expressed hopes that if the Helms Amendment were repealed, its impact could be even greater “if additional countries liberalize abortion laws.” This would undoubtedly be assisted by U.S. funding going to abortion-providing organizations in those countries, which could then use their presence and resources to lobby lawmakers in capitals.  President Joe Biden’s decision to rescind the Mexico City Policy blocking U.S. aid funding to those organizations will likewise result in greater pressure on countries with pro-life laws.

The Helms Amendment has been law for decades, and some members of the Senate have proposed a bill that would codify it as a stand-alone law, rather than a rider on the foreign assistance law. However, given the current makeup of Congress, this bill has little chance of passing in the immediate future.