The Helms Amendment is America’s Foreign Policy Skeleton in The Closet
The Helms Amendment not only hits women who’ve been raped, but threatens the health of all women in developing nations.
A few weeks ago, in what has become an arms race to limit reproductive freedom in the United States, North Dakota approved the country’s most restrictive abortion ban. Days earlier, that repugnant title was held by Arkansas, and who knows what absurd restriction tomorrow will bring.
What US elected officials are doing to reproductive rights in the US is outrageous, but at least we have some recourse as voters and advocates. What US elected officials are doing to the reproductive rights of women in developing countries – through foreign policy that exports our own abortion hang-ups – is reproductive colonialism.
The Helms Amendment was enacted in 1973 and bars US aid recipients from using funds for abortion services, even in countries where it is legal. However, funding can support abortion referrals and even the procedure itself in cases of rape and incest. But it rarely or never does.
The language of the policy is vague and confusing, prohibiting “abortion as a method of family planning” and the “motivation or coercion” of anyone to perform the procedure. The US Agency for International Development (USAID) (and one presidential administration after the next) has continually neglected to provide sufficient guidance on how to implement the policy.
This has left ample room for misinterpretation by aid recipients and USAID staff, which is further fostered by the US’ long history of politicising and stigmatising abortion combined with the undue power of a wealthy donor country. The result is that Helms is being implemented as if it were a total abortion ban.
Seeds of stigma and censorship have been sewn into already-struggling health systems of poor countries, hampering meagre efforts to address unwieldy maternal mortality rates. It is poor women who suffer, unable to access the safe, legal abortion services they deserve.
To read the full article, please click here: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/04/201343104350559475.html
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