USA – US House of Representatives removes abortion restrictions from foreign assistance legislation

On 28 July 2021 Democrats in the US House of Representatives voted for the first time in more than half a century for a State Department and foreign assistance spending bill that does not include text from the Helms Amendment, a provision that blocks US funding for women’s health services related to abortions, which was first introduced in 1973.

The bill is the annual appropriations package that lays out US foreign funding priorities. The removal of a clause considered a permanent fixture, that mandated that no funds can be used to pay for abortion, was a major victory.

The bill did not, however, permanently repeal the Helms Amendment, only exclude text from it related to the coming spending year. It did, on the other hand, permanently repeal the Global Gag Rule, a major accomplishment, which prohibited US funding for recipient governments and other organisations that provide access to, or information about abortions, even if US dollars are not used for those services.

The total amount allocated in the bill for all foreign aid was $62.24 billion. That included $760 million for family planning and reproductive health services, an increase of $185 million over the previous year, and provided $70 million for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), an increase of $37.5 million over the previous year. It was passed by a vote of 217 to 212, with three Democrats voting against.

Whether it is feasible to repeal the Helms Amendment altogether is another question. Some reports have said President Biden has not made a commitment to trying this as yet.

SOURCE: The Hill, by Laura Kelly, 28-29 July 2021 ; INFOGRAPHIC: How US Federal Legislation is Made, Wikipedia, undated