The U.S. government has a major role to play in the global effort to fight unsafe abortion. But two key U.S. foreign policies—the Helms Amendment and the Global Gag Rule—diminish that role by restricting women’s access to abortion and contraception in developing countries around the world.

The Helms Amendment prohibits the use of U.S. foreign assistance funds to pay for abortion “as a method of family planning.” Despite the limited scope of the amendment’s language, the U.S. government has applied it as a complete ban on the use of funds for abortion-related services and information.

The Global Gag Rule (also known as the Mexico City policy) restricts foreign nongovernmental organizations that receive U.S. global health funds from engaging in abortion-related work. It has been expanded under President Trump and directs U.S. government agencies to apply an unprecedented global anti-abortion policy.

In partnership with reproductive rights advocates in the United States and around the world, Ipas calls for the repeal of these harmful policies. And as we fight for full repeal, we are working for measures to lessen the far-reaching and dangerous impact these policies have on the lives and health of women.

Since the day Roe v. Wade was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court on January 22, 1973, it has been vulnerable and under attack by anti-abortion activists and organizations who want to outlaw the procedure. Their interest in curbing women’s reproductive autonomy is not limited to U.S. domestic policy; the battle against Roe includes restricting how U.S. development aid is spent. The Global Gag Rule, reinstated by President Trump on January 23, 2017, is one of the most harmful policies, with wide-reaching health and legal consequences for women and girls. These anniversaries are an opportunity to recommit to keeping abortion legal in the United States and ensuring that women throughout the world have the right to access an abortion, without interference or bias from the U.S. government.”
GILLIAN KANE, Ipas senior manager, policy
The Global Gag Rule doesn’t reduce abortion, it only makes abortion unsafe. What reduces the need for abortion is comprehensive sexuality education programs, access to contraceptives, and quality abortion services. The Global Gag Rule is a cruel policy, because it prevents the world’s most vulnerable women, the ones most in need of services, from receiving the information and care they have the right to.”
MARÍA ANTONIETA ALCALDE CASTRO, Director, Ipas Central America and Mexico
María Antonieta Alcalde, Director for Central America and Mexico
The Global Gag Rule harms women because it goes against the realization of women’s fundamental right to make informed decisions about their bodies and health. In Mozambique, we’ve seen a reduction in funding, a reduction in donated contraceptives—including condoms—and a reduction in cutting-edge leadership and technical expertise in the field of sexual and reproductive health and safe abortion.”
JORGE MATINE, Director, Ipas Mozambique
Jorge Matine, Director, Ipas Mozambique

The Helms Amendment

The Helms Amendment is a 1973 U.S. legislative restriction that hinders efforts to address unsafe abortion around the world. It prohibits the use of U.S. foreign assistance funds to pay for “abortion as a method of family planning.” In practice, however, it is being applied as a total ban on abortion-related services and information.

In developing countries around the world, this ties the hands of government officials, reproductive health providers and U.S.-funded organizations working to ensure women’s access to comprehensive reproductive health care. In order to prevent a possible cut-off of U.S. funding, they avoid the provision of any services, information or even counseling related to safe abortion.

Ipas is committed to advocating for full repeal of the Helms Amendment and is working to document its harmful impact—and to educate U.S. legislators on the harm it does to women and girls in some of the world’s poorest countries. Youth advocates from Ghana and Pakistan, for instance, have traveled to the United States to speak directly with members of Congress about the reality of how the Helms Amendment plays out in their countries. We have also collaborated with Ibis Reproductive Health to produce a report on the ways in which the Helms Amendment and the similar Hyde Amendment (which restricts U.S. domestic funding for abortion) violate human rights and impose barriers on access to safe abortion—restrictions that disproportionately affect young, poor women of color across the globe.

The Global Gag Rule

Ipas is working to document the terrible harm to women’s health and lives inflicted by the Global Gag Rule, which is already making it harder for women and girls around the world to exercise their right to safe, legal abortion care.

The Global Gag Rule is a U.S. policy that restricts foreign nongovernmental organizations that receive U.S. global health funds from engaging in abortion-related work—even if they are using their own funds. They are "gagged" from providing not only abortion services, but abortion counseling, referrals, medical advice, training and lobbying for the liberalization of abortion laws. This policy has been expanded under President Trump, and directs U.S. government agencies to apply an unprecedented global anti-abortion policy.

Trump’s war on reproductive freedom

Ipas President and CEO Anu Kumar talks about the global, national and local impacts of harmful US policies—including the Global Gag Rule—that destroy reproductive rights around the world.
Read her commentary
Ipas President and CEO Anu Kumar

Proven again: Legal restrictions on abortion harm women’s health

The evidence has shown for years that restricting abortion does not prevent abortion—it simply pushes women to illegal and unsafe abortions. An important new study published in The Lancet Global Health further confirms those findings.

This brings new attention to the harm of legal and policy restrictions on abortion. Through the Helms amendment and the Global Gag Rule, the U.S. government is preventing poor people in developing countries from getting the health care they need, which leads to higher rates of unwanted pregnancy and unsafe abortion.”
Patty Skuster, Ipas senior legal advisor
Read the study

More about the Global Gag Rule and its impact on women’s health

Trump’s Global Gag Rule. Causing harm to women worldwide (an in-depth look at the policy from PAI)

The Trump gag rule hits India (news report citing Ipas Development Foundation Director Vinoj Manning)

Stay informed and inspired with updates on how we’re working globally to improve access to safe abortion and contraception. Learn more