What is the real purpose of the Helms Amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act?

By | November 15, 2019

In 1973, the United States Supreme Court decided, in Roe v. Wade, to strike down all laws protecting unborn children from abortion throughout the country. That same year, Congress moved to contain the liberalization of abortion, amending the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to prohibit the use of funds for the promotion or provision of abortions overseas.

This law, proposed by Republican Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina, has been in effect for nearly half a century, but it has been the subject of recent controversy. Abortion advocates have campaigned for it to be rescinded entirely or, failing that, to be reinterpreted with exceptions that would substantively weaken it.

This issue of Definitions explores the history of the Helms Amendment: why it was adopted, what its impact has been, and how it fits into the present-day battle over abortion both domestically and abroad.