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Congress could prevent 19 million unsafe abortions worldwide each year if it overturned the Helms Amendment, a 1973 law that prevents U.S. foreign aid from being used to pay for abortions, according to a new report.

The report, published by the abortion rights research organization, the Guttmacher Institute, analyzed the impact a repeal would have on unsafe abortions, maternal mortality and pregnancy-related complications among women. women around the world. The report found that the total number of maternal deaths from unsafe abortions would decrease by 98% in the 33 countries affected by the Helms Amendment. Guttmacher too found that there would be 17,000 fewer maternal deaths each year and that 12 million fewer women would have abortion-related complications requiring medical treatment.

The Helms Amendment, first enacted in the same year that abortion was legalized in the United States, has an impact on women and families in countries where the United States already supports family planning programs, including Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda. Many advocacy groups accused the amendment of being racist because it largely affects developing countries in Africa. Unlike the Hyde Amendment, the national equivalent of Helms, the Helms Amendment has been over-interpreted over the years as making no exceptions for rape, incest or if the mother’s life is in danger.

President Joe Biden, who has vowed to pursue an aggressive plan to promote reproductive justice in the United States and around the world, is under pressure from abortion rights groups to work with Congress to repeal the Helms amendment.

By repealing the amendment and allowing safe and regulated abortion procedures, the health systems in every country would also benefit financially, Guttmacher found. The cost of providing safe abortion services would increase by only 19%, while post-care costs for unsafe abortions would decrease by 89%. Overall, the health systems of these 33 countries would save $ 641 million.

The Helms Amendment goes hand in hand with the Global Gag Rule, also known as the Mexico City Policy, which was adopted in 1984 by President Ronald Reagan. The gag rule builds on the Helms Amendment, prohibiting the federal government from offering U.S. assistance to any foreign health organization that also offers or provides information about abortion services. The difference here is that the Helms Amendment prohibits US funding for abortion procedures, while the gag rule prohibits all US funding to any foreign non-governmental organization that offers or even educates patients about abortion services with their own non-American money.

Since the gag rule was enacted, every Democratic president has revoked it and every Republican president has reinstated it. Under the Trump administration, the gag rule has been extended several times. President Joe Biden recently repealed the rule after taking office last month.

“The Global Gag Rule and the Helms Amendment have spread like cancer thanks to US foreign aid,” Zara Ahmed, associate director of federal issues at Guttmacher, said in a statement. “The time has come for the White House and Congress to eliminate these twin malignant policies, not only from funding family planning and reproductive health, but from all US global health initiatives.

Many abortion rights advocates, including the Guttmacher Institute, are pushing the Biden administration to do more than just overturn the gag rule. For starters, many organizations are calling for Biden to pass the Global Health Empowerment and Rights Act (Global HER), which would permanently repeal the global gag rule. Then, they urge the Biden administration to repeal the Helms Amendment and its national equivalent, the Hyde Amendment.

“While it is essential that President Biden overturned the global gag rule last month, it was only a first step,” Ahmed said. “In order to truly support global progress, the White House and Congress must work together to permanently repeal the global gag rule through legislation, as well as to repeal the Helms Amendment.”

Some lawmakers are already looking for ways to permanently overturn the Helms Amendment. Last year the representative Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) Presented the Abortion is the law on healthcare everywhere, which aims to remove the Helms Amendment from the law and replace it with a commitment to provide comprehensive information and services on reproductive health care, including abortion care.

“The Helms Amendment is a policy deeply rooted in racism. It imposes our arbitrary and medically unnecessary restrictions on abortion on international communities, allowing the United States to control the health care and bodily autonomy of billions of blacks and brunettes around the world, ”Schakowsky mentionned in July. “Like the Hyde Amendment, the Helms Amendment puts reproductive and economic freedom beyond the reach of women of color. But that is enough, and both amendments must fall if we are to achieve true health equity and reproductive justice. ”


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