Yesterday I wrote about the Global Gag Rule and its effects on abortion rights and services around the world. What I didn’t write about was the Helms Amendment,  which has been in effect since 1973 – it followed right on the heels of Roe v. Wade as a conservative backlash to the legalization of abortion in the US.  The Helms Amendment prohibits the use of US foreign assistance funds to pay for “abortion as a method of family planning, or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortion.” Although this amendment is slightly less far-reaching than the Gag Rule, it also has a huge detrimental effect on the availability of safe abortion services to women around the world. Currently, approximately 67,000 women worldwide die each year as a result of unsafe abortions, and millions more are seriously injured. Check out this article by IPAS to get a better idea of how the Helms Amendment violates human rights and inhibits other nations’ efforts to provide abortion services in their own countries.

The Helms Amendment is the Foreign Policy equivalent of the Hyde Amendment,  a domestic policy which prohibits federal funding from being used to pay for abortion.

This means that women on Medicaid or in the military have to pay for abortions out of pocket unless there is a medical emergency, in some states even in cases of rape. This disproportionately affects low income women and women of color, and denies them access to an integral part of health care. It also furthers the cycle of poverty, by forcing women to have children they do not want or cannot support, and/or by putting them through financial hardship in order to terminate their pregnancy. It has been challenged continuously, but has been renewed in Congress every year since 1976, when it was originally passed.

So why aren’t we talking about either one of these issues? The Global Gag Rule gets enormous publicity (as it should) but the Helms and Hyde Amendments are even more long standing and have just as much of an impact on domestic and foreign policy. It seems unlikely that we as a nation will be able to change our foreign policy on abortion until we change our equivalent domestic policy. As a matter of fact, there doesn’t seem to be any legislation on the table about repealing the Helms Amendment (please, correct me if I’m wrong!). So make your voice count. Petition to repeal the Hyde Amendment on the National Network for Abortion Funds website.