by Anu Kumar and Serra Sippel
You’ve likely never heard of the Helms Amendment, or perhaps not until now that Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), along with Reps. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), Barbara Lee(D-Texas), Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) and Norma Torres (D-Calif.), have introduced legislation to repeal it. But our guess is you’ve heard of the late North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms.
In 1973, Helms, an outspoken opponent of civil rights — really, he opposed rights for anyone not white, male, heterosexual, American and Christian — introduced the Helms Amendment. The policy prohibits any U.S. foreign assistance funds from being used for “the performance of abortion as a method of family planning.” As written, the Helms Amendment allows for the provision of abortion information and counseling in cases of rape, incest and if a woman’s life is in danger. But in effect, it has been interpreted as a total ban on abortion-related services and information in developing countries.