Global Justice Center Blog

FOIA: The Helms Amendment, Global Gag Rule, and Other U.S. Abortion Restrictions

FOIA: The Helms Amendment, Global Gag Rule, and Other U.S. Abortion Restrictions

March 6, 2017 – Ongoing

Beginning in March 2017, GJC filed FOIA requests to the State Department, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and USAID to request “information on all emails, internal memos, contracts, grants and awards since November 8, 2016 that discuss or mention the Helms amendment, Global Gag Rule, the ‘Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance’ policy, or other US abortion restrictions on foreign assistance.”

GJC received expedited processing on these requests with State and HHS on the grounds that “failure to obtain requested information…could reasonably be expected to pose an imminent threat to the life or physical safety of an individual”; the USAID request was not granted expedited processing.

State Department timeline (case F-2017-05062):

USAID timeline (case F-00137-17):

HHS timeline (case 2017-00983-FOIA-OS):

HHS timeline (case 2018-00822-FOIA-OS):

Department of State FOIA re: abortion restrictions on foreign aid

February 27, 2012 – ongoing
Case F-2012-22928

GJC petitioned the State Department to obtain materials dating from January 1, 2008 dealing with any form of abortion restrictions on U.S. foreign aid, including standard clauses in State Dept. awards, materials relating to enforcement of the Helms and Siljander Amendments, and materials regarding abortion prohibitions and international NGOs. GJC also requested details on specific humanitarian awards, including “the purpose and scope of the award, implementing partners, and the portion of the award (or modification) containing abortion prohibitory language.”

Some of the responsive documents that GJC received deal with U.S. censorship of abortion-related speech even by U.S. citizens. Even under Obama (but at the request of three anti-choice members of Congress), the speech of then-US Ambassador to Kenya, Michael Ranneberger, was subjected to two extensive investigations by the Government Accountability Office and the State Department’s Office of Inspector General. The investigations centered on State Department support for constitutional reform in Kenya and whether any activities or speech of the Ambassador even tacitly expressed support for the abortion reform provision in the constitution.

State Department timeline (case F-2012-22928):

Department of State FOIA re: Syria

August 19, 2013 – December 9, 2016
Case F-2013-14923

In August 2013, GJC submitted a FOIA request for information on (1) State humanitarian assistance awards to Syria and neighboring countries in FY 2012 and 2013 and (2) State awards, grants, and internal memos pertaining to U.S. funding for efforts aligning with the UK’s Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative (PSVI). After a three-year FOIA process, GJC received documents in December 2016 containing:


  • August 19, 2013Initial request sent
  • February 1, 2016 – Estimated completion date (set by State Dept.)
  • December 9, 2016 – Responsive documents received

USAID FOIA re: Burma

March 3, 2015 – January 10, 2017
Case F-00127-15

GJC petitioned USAID for information on “all USAID contracts, grants and awards related to the funding of the Mae Tao Clinic on the Thai-Burma border to cover operational and support costs since 2008.” This request was part of the August 12th Campaign, dealing specifically with the services available to rape victims in Burma and those who are displaced to the Thai-Burma border.

Abortion-related sections of USAID contracts (emphasis added):

(1) Ineligible Goods and Services. Under no circumstances shall the recipient procure any of the following under this award:

            (i) Military equipment,

            (ii) Surveillance equipment,

(iii) Commodities and services for support of police or other law enforcement activities,

(iv) Abortion equipment and services,

(v) Luxury goods and gambling equipment, or

(vi) Weather modification equipment


  • March 3, 2015 – Initial request sent
  • January 10, 2017 – Responsive documents received

USAID FOIA re: Syria

August 19 – September 26, 2013
Case F-00322-13

GJC requested information on contracts pertaining to USAID humanitarian assistance awards in Syria for FY 2012 and 2013, looking specifically for portions of the awards containing abortion prohibitions