There are some 3.5 billion human uteruses in the world, and anti-abortion forces want to occupy all of them. As much as conservative legislators in the US are attacking abortion rights in this country, we can forget that US lawmakers can–and do–have a devastating effect on women’s reproductive health around the world.


That was brought into focus recently when the Canadian government of Justin Trudeau made the sort of rational and humane move that is almost unheard of in America’s handling of worldwide women’s health issues. Trudeau lifted restrictions on Canadian foreign aid money being used for abortion services in other countries.  


Of course, the amount of foreign aid that Canada can provide around the world is not as great as that provided by the US. But now Canada gives more aid toward abortion services than the US does because the amount provided by the US is absolute zero–zilch, naught, nada–even in cases of rape, incest, and the health of the mother. The reason for that is a misogynistic anachronism called The Helms Amendment.


The Helms Amendment was named for its author, Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC 1973–2003), a man so antagonistic to women, minorities, gays, AIDS research (really!), and crucifixes submerged in urine that he makes Ted Cruz look like Ted Kennedy. In the wake of the Roe v Wade decision in 1973, newly elected Senator Helms created the Helms Amendment–one of the very first counterattacks on the hard-won reproductive rights women had finally gotten.


The Helms Amendment says “No foreign assistance funds may be used to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions.” Bad, yes, but ever since it was passed, the US government has made it worse by wrongly enforcing the Helms Amendment as a TOTAL ban on any abortion funding, even for rape, incest, and the life and health of the mother.


So US policy prohibiting foreign aid abortion funding goes beyond the letter of the Helms Amendment–which has some pretty harsh letters in it. Because of this funding prohibition, thousands of women die every year due to needlessly unsafe abortion practices. This policy can be changed by executive order. There are movements to urge President Obama to do so.
Jesse Helms did enough harm while he was around. Let’s try to mitigate the damage he’s still doing from beyond the grave.