Abortion Groups Push Obama to Overturn Law Banning US Funding of Foreign Abortions

By Rebecca Oas, Ph.D. | December 18, 2014
Jesse Helms

Jesse Helms

NEW YORK, December 19 (C-Fam) Abortion groups picketed the White House last week in their newest angle to spread abortion worldwide. They want President Obama to reinterpret a 41-year old law and force Americans to pay for foreign abortions.

U.S. law prohibits spending foreign aid to commit or promote abortions in other countries. The abortion campaign seeks a presidential re-interpretation of the legislation, with an eye to using an extreme exception to ultimately undermine the entire law.

The legislative history of the Helms Amendment reveals its scope and Congress’ intent was to protect human life.

In 1973, the same year as the contentious Supreme Court decision decriminalizing abortion, North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms introduced the amendment to ensure U.S. funding would no longer provide abortions in foreign countries.

He stressed this provision strictly referred to abortion, and did not affect family planning funding.

Pro-abortion groups like the Global Justice Center now claim that President Obama could reinterpret the law to permit funding for abortions for women raped in conflict situations – without needing approval from Congress.

When the Helms amendment was introduced and debated in Congress, there was no discussion of such exceptions. Rather, Helms stressed that in existing legislation on population issues the President was required to ensure that nobody would be “coerced to practice methods of family planning inconsistent with his or her moral, philosophical, or religious beliefs.”

Abortion advocates oppose all regulations on abortion and do not believe people have the right to conscientiously object to participating in abortion. Their latest campaign gives no indication how or whether reinterpreting Helms would protect the consciences of those providing humanitarian assistance in conflict areas, nor whether U.S. funding might provide abortions in places where it is illegal.

While issues of conscience and potential complicity were important to Helms, he made clear in his remarks in the Senate that he was pragmatic about the limitations of the amendment’s effects on the ground. “I am under no illusion that governments and agencies that have been promoting abortion for years will suddenly stop when they are not allowed to use U.S. Government funds for that purpose,” he said.

Abortion groups attempt to frame the Helms amendment as a global ban on funding abortion in foreign countries, but the law does not stop other countries and donors from funding abortion.

In a recent op-ed, two European Parliamentarians acknowledged this and urged their colleagues to continue paying for foreign abortion: “It is of utmost importance this funding is maintained,” they wrote, and “abortion is not restricted by other donor countries, like the United States.”

Since the Helms amendment refers to allocating foreign aid, its focus is on U.S. procurement of supplies and services, rather than the minutiae of how these might be used in exceptional circumstances. For example, U.S. policy does not allow for purchasing manual vacuum aspirators.

According to Sally Shelton, the former Assistant Administrator of USAID, “Since this equipment can also be used for abortions and United States policy prohibits the funding of abortion, USAID felt it was best to leave the procurement and distribution of equipment to others.”

One thing Helms made abundantly clear when discussing his amendment on the Senate floor was its purpose was to protect human lives–lives that are completely ignored when the discussion turns to exceptions:

“Abortion ends the life of a human being who has done no wrong and has made no choice.”