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.

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.

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