Letter Urges President to Correct Misinterpretation of ‘Helms Amendment’ Denying Women Abortions for Rape, Incest, or Danger to Their Lives


WASHINGTON, DC —A group of 81 Members of Congress urged President Obama to take steps that would improve women's health services around the world.  In an effort led by Representative Eliot L. Engel (D-NY), the top Democrat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), the lawmakers' letter to the President called for new guidance to correct the current interpretation of the Helms Amendment, ensuring that the amendment does not prevent a woman from aborting a pregnancy in cases of rape, incest, or danger to a woman’s life simply because some U.S. foreign assistance was involved. The letter underscored the President’s commitment to promoting women’s rights worldwide and the harmful effects that improper interpretation of the Helms language has had globally, including in Ethiopia and Kenya where the President recently visited. 


"A flawed interpretation of the Helms Amendment is depriving women of critical health-care services in the places where this help is needed most.  We need to make clear that life-saving assistance from the United States won't be hijacked by a political agenda.  I'm glad to join with Representative Schakowsky and dozens of other lawmakers to stand up for women's health and women's rights around the world," said Rep. Engel.


Rep. Schakowsky said, “I do not believe we should be imposing any restriction on access to abortion.  But at the very least, we should not impose restrictions that go beyond current law.  The current interpretation of the Helms Amendment goes beyond what’s included in the annual appropriations bills and jeopardizes women’s health and well-being.  It’s time to clarify this language so that women in the most dire of circumstances can receive the abortion services they need, and for which they qualify.”


Since 1973, the Helms Amendment has barred the use of U.S. foreign assistance for “the performance of abortion as a method of family planning.”   The language has been improperly construed as a blanket prohibition on the use of U.S. aid for abortion services, regardless of the circumstances.


The full letter with a list of signers can be found here.





Press Office (HFAC/Engel) 202-226-9103

Lee Whack (Schakowsky) 202-225-2111