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Groups Call on President Obama To Clarify Helms Amendment To Aid Rape Survivors in Conflict Zones

Groups Call on President Obama To Clarify Helms Amendment To Aid Rape Survivors in Conflict Zones

December 10, 2014 — Reproductive rights groups are increasing calls for President Obama to take action clarifying the interpretation of the Helms Amendment, which restricts U.S. foreign aid funding for abortion, The Guardian reports.

The amendment, enacted in 1973, states that "no foreign assistance funds may be used to pay for the performance of an abortion as a method of family planning or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions."

However, in practice, the amendment "has been applied as a complete ban for abortion care in all circumstances," according to Pathfinder International President and CEO Purnima Mane. Under the amendment, aid groups are permitted to support abortion services for women raped in conflict zones, in cases of incest and when a pregnancy endangers a woman's life.

Executive Order Could Clarify Amendment

Advocates are looking to Obama to clearly state how the amendment should be implemented.

On Tuesday, about 21 groups -- including Human Rights Watch, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and Youth to End Sexual Violence -- rallied in front of the White House. Some carried signs reading "#breakbarriers," a hashtag that the campaign has used to raise awareness for the issue.

"Rape as a tool of war is older than the scriptures," said RCRC's the Rev. Henry Knox.

Separately, Nobel laureates Jody Williams and Shirin Ebadi last week in a letter asked Obama to clarify the amendment. "United States foreign policy can serve as a hindrance to human rights for women and girls or it can be the catalyst for change," they wrote (Holpuch, The Guardian, 12/9).