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Leading Health and Human Rights Organizations Call for End to Unnecessary Restrictions that Harm Women’s Health Worldwide


In a letter to President Obama, a broad-based coalition of leading domestic and global organizations spanning women’s rights, health, human rights, reproductive justice, young people, the LGBT community, faith, and development are calling for an end to the incorrect implementation of the Helms Amendment in order to save women’s lives and protect their wellbeing.

The Helms Amendment prohibits the use of U.S. foreign assistance funds “to pay for the performance of abortions as a method of family planning.” For more than 40 years, the law has been incorrectly implemented as a complete ban on all abortion-related services. The letter urges swift action to allow support for abortion care for women who have been raped, who are victims of incest, or who face a life-endangering pregnancy in countries where those services are legally available.

 “Women already face enormous obstacles to care,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “In reinterpreting the Helms Amendment, the Obama administration has an unprecedented opportunity to help women in desperate need around the world. President Obama must continue to be a champion for women’s health by providing clear guidance for U.S. foreign assistance programs that serve the poorest women, including refugees and others in vulnerable circumstances.”

 “Women in developing countries should no longer be condemned to suffer or die because of this harmful policy and the way it has been applied – preventing health providers from serving the needs of their patients and leaving many women with no options for safe care,” added Elizabeth Maguire, president and CEO of Ipas, an international reproductive rights organization that helped mobilize support for the letter.

 “The current policy of the United States compounds the trauma of women who have been raped or face life-threatening pregnancies by unnecessarily denying them assistance in obtaining essential and potentially lifesaving care,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “President Obama has shown leadership previously in defending women’s rights and we hope he continues to do so by fixing the United States’ faulty and harmful implementation of the Helms Amendment.”

The letter provides further background on the groups’ concerns, stating that women around the world face high rates of gender-based violence, limited access to trained health care providers, and financial and geographic barriers to access comprehensive reproductive health care, including safe and legal abortion. Every year, an estimated 287,000 women die from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth – 13% of those deaths are the result of unsafe abortion. Close to half of those who die from unsafe abortion are younger than the age of 25. While no single policy can address the broad challenges that affect women in developing countries each day, the administration can take an important step by correcting its implementation of the Helms Amendment. 


Planned Parenthood is the nation’s leading provider and advocate of high-quality, affordable health care for women, men, and young people, as well as the nation’s largest provider of sex education. With more than 700 health centers across the country, Planned Parenthood organizations serve all patients with care and compassion, with respect and without judgment. Through health centers, programs in schools and communities, and online resources, Planned Parenthood is a trusted source of reliable health information that allows people to make informed health decisions. We do all this because we care passionately about helping people lead healthier lives.

 Ipas is a global nongovernmental organization dedicated to ending preventable deaths and disabilities from unsafe abortion. Through local, national and global partnerships, Ipas works to ensure that women can obtain safe, respectful and comprehensive abortion care, including counseling and contraception to prevent future unintended pregnancies. Along with caring, committed health professionals and other colleagues worldwide, Ipas tackles this neglected public health problem head on in some of the world’s poorest countries. While many international donors and governments have focused attention and resources elsewhere, we struggle against the fundamental social injustice that results in the deaths of so many women in the prime of their lives.

 The Center for Reproductive Rights is a global legal advocacy organization that fights to ensure reproductive rights are guaranteed in law as fundamental human rights. For more information about the Center for Reproductive Rights’ work, please visit:


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