Democrats introduce bill to repeal funding ban on abortions abroad

Greg Nash

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) introduced legislation Wednesday that would repeal a decades-old policy that prevents U.S. foreign aid programs from providing funding for abortion services.

The bill takes aim at the Helms Amendment, a 1973 law passed in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, that imposes anti-abortion restrictions on overseas aid.

Schakowsky’s bill, the Abortion Is Health Care Act of 2020, would classify abortion services as a safe component of reproductive health care. The longtime progressive said her legislation is the first bill to attempt removal of the amendment since its inception.

Calling safe abortion a “human right”, Schakowsky and many of the bill’s co-sponsors, including co-chairwoman of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Democratic Women’s Caucus co-chairwoman Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), said the policy has been disproportionately harmful to women of color.

“The Helms Amendment is a policy deeply rooted in racism,” Schakowsky said in a statement Wednesday. “It imposes our arbitrary and medically unnecessary abortion restrictions on international communities, allowing the United States to control the health care and bodily autonomy of billions Black and brown people around the world.”

The bill has been endorsed by more than 115 organizations, including the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the International Women’s Health Coalition and the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion-rights research group.

Guttmacher President Herminia Palacio lauded the legislation.

“The U.S. government can and must show global leadership in safeguarding reproductive health and rights,” Palacio said in a statement. “This is true especially with the COVID-19 crisis threatening the health of women and families across the world — including potentially a significant increase in unintended pregnancies and unsafe abortion.”

Democratic supporters say they recognize that the legislation, which has not been scheduled for a vote in the House, doesn’t have the votes to pass in the Republican-controlled Senate if it were to get that far.

“These people would rather see women die from botched and unsafe procedures than provide basic health care,” Speier said, referring to Republicans.

Tags Abortion Barbara Lee Foreign Aid Helms Amendment Jackie Speier Jan Schakowsky
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