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Global Justice Center Blog

USAID and State Department Urged to Take Steps to Implement Exceptions for Funding of Abortion Services Abroad

More than 100 international and domestic organizations today sent a letter to the U.S. State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) urging them to end overly restrictive interpretations of law that block the use of foreign assistance funds for abortion services in any circumstance.

The Helms Amendment prohibits foreign assistance funding for abortion services as a “method of family planning.” This means abortion services can be funded in cases of rape, incest and life endangerment. However, USAID and the State Department have never funded abortion services in these contexts.

Elena Sarver, legal advisor at the Global Justice Center, issued the following statement:

“We’ve said it for years: the president can end a devastating human rights violation with the stroke of a pen. For too long, US presidents have failed to take action to implement exceptions that permit funding of abortion care abroad in certain cases. The Biden administration can take immediate action to change that now.

“As the world’s largest provider of humanitarian aid worldwide, the US is in a unique position to deliver healthcare to those who need it most. But as a result of its incorrect interpretation of the Helms Amendment, it is routinely denying critical abortion care to victims of rape, incest, and in cases of life endangerment. In order to live up to its stated commitment to reproductive rights, the Biden administration should clarify these exceptions and implement funding for abortion in these cases.”

Letter to Biden Admin: Use Power to Fund Abortion Care Abroad

Dear Secretary Blinken and Administrator Power,

As organizations dedicated to protecting and expanding global reproductive health, rights, and justice, including abortion access, we are heartened to hear that you maintain an unwavering commitment to sexual and reproductive health care. The recent Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization Supreme Court decision is a public health emergency that has and will continue to threaten the health and lives of people seeking essential health care services, not just for those in the U.S. but also for people globally. We are glad to see those in USAID and the State Department recognizing and calling out the devastation that this decision will bring worldwide and reaffirming your commitment to protect and care for those you serve.

We look forward to working alongside you in this critical endeavor towards reproductive freedom, bodily autonomy, and dignity for people worldwide. We encourage you to start meeting this commitment today by authorizing USAID reproductive health funding to the full extent of the law. Under current law, U.S. foreign assistance may not be used for abortion services as a means of family planning. This requirement, however, still allows USAID and the State Department to provide funding for abortion services in cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment. It also allows for abortion service information and counseling. However, USAID and the State Department do not and have never funded abortion services in these circumstances - even though they can do so without breaching any congressionally imposed limits on abortion funding.

Download the Full Letter

Key Points for the CERD Committee’s Review of the United States: Abortion Restrictions are a Form of Racial Discrimination

Abortion Restrictions violate the right to health of women of color and perpetuate racial discrimination

Women and adolescents of color disproportionately suffer as a result of abortion restrictions. 

  1. Women of color have a greater need for abortion care due in large part to the social, economic, and geographical barriers that limit access to healthcare, including contraception.

  2. Systemic racism in the US criminal legal system means that women of color face a heightened risk of criminal prosecution for abortion. Pregnant people, particularly Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous women, are already policed and criminally punished for pregnancy outcomes.
  3. Being forced to carry a pregnancy to term is especially dangerous for Black women in the US, who are three times more likely than white women to die from pregnancy-related causes. 
  4. The economic costs and unpaid care burden of forced parenting are more challenging for women of color than for white women - women of color are already more likely to live below the poverty line, receive low wages, experience unemployment and suffer labor discrimination than white women. 

US foreign policy (including the Helms Amendment) severely undermines access to abortion for women and damages the health and lives of Black and brown women in Global South middle- and low-income countries. 

Recommendations

  • Take federal and state legislative steps to guarantee effective access to affordable, legal, and quality abortion care.
  • Remove the Helms Amendment restrictions on US foreign aid to ensure that development assistance and global health funds provide safe and quality abortion care and information.

Download Fact Sheet 

Submission to UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination: US Abortion Restrictions are a Form of Racial Discrimination

Introduction

“Racism in America is more than the fire hoses, police dogs and Alabama sheriffs you envision when you hear the words,” writes Petula Dvorak. It is also the tyranny inflicted on racialized women when they are stripped of their reproductive autonomy, shackled while giving birth, and excluded from lifesaving health care and information on cervical cancer.

This submission under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) discusses three sites of systemic racism and intersectional discrimination that oppress women of color, particularly Black women, in the United States (US): abortion restrictions, the shackling of pregnant prisoners, and racial inequalities in cervical cancer mortality. While many of the laws and practices described in this submission do not directly target women of color and are presented in facially neutral terms, they disproportionately impact the human rights of women of color. We urge the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD, or the “Committee”) to recognize the disproportionate effects of these policies on the lives of racial minorities and the racial inequalities that they perpetuate.

US abortion restrictions are a form of racial discrimination

  1. In June 2022, the Supreme Court of the United States overturned the constitutional guarantee to access abortion. As a result, more than half of US states are poised to ban abortion; as of July 7, 2022, thirteen states have already criminalized or severely restricted abortion. Anti-abortion regulations affect all women and people who can become pregnant, but health inequities and racialized socio-economic inequalities mean that it is women and adolescents of color whose disproportionately suffer.

Read the full submission

Roe Is the Past, Human Rights Are the Future

Excerpt of The Nation op-ed authored by GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

All of us in the abortion rights movement have long prepared for the day Roe v. Wade would be reversed. But nothing could fully brace us for the pain of reading Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion, which categorically declared that abortion is not a constitutional right. While we took to the streets to rage and mourn the destruction of our rights, we heard from feminist allies and partners around the world—some of whom had successfully fought deeply entrenched patriarchal forces to secure historic advances for abortion rights in their country and offered lessons for our struggle. There is an immense amount to learn from them, but there is one lesson in particular to embrace: We must place human rights at the center of our demands for unfettered access to abortion.

Since the Supreme Court decided Roe in 1973, the story of abortion access in the United States has been one of steady regression. In 1976, Congress passed the Hyde Amendment to restrict the use of federal funds for abortion except in limited circumstances. This decision was upheld by the Supreme Court in Harris v. McRae, which found that that neither the federal government nor states were required to pay for abortion services—severely undercutting the realization of a constitutional right. Subsequent years saw Planned Parenthood v. Casey limit Roe through the imposition of the “undue burden” standard, Gonzales v. Carhart limit later abortions, and National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra limit regulation of anti-abortion “crisis pregnancy centers.” And just under 50 years after Roe, the court dealt its killing blow to abortion rights in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

Read the Article