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NYT Editorial: President Obama Must End 'Misinterpretation' of Helms Amendment

NYT Editorial: President Obama Must End 'Misinterpretation' of Helms Amendment

January 5, 2015 — A New York Times editorial applauds President Obama and Congress for recently "easing a 1979 rule that prohibited the Peace Corps from providing any abortion coverage for female volunteers" and urges Obama to "follow up this laudable change" by correcting a "misinterpretation" of the 1973 Helms Amendment, which "restricts the use of foreign aid to pay for abortions overseas, even in countries where abortion is legal."

The editorial explains that the amendment has been incorrectly interpreted as a "blanket ban governing the use of American foreign aid" for abortion. In fact, the amendment's wording bars federal money from funding "'abortion as a method of family planning or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions,'" which "clearly does not apply to cases of rape, incest or life endangerment," the editorial states. Nonetheless, the amendment "has been treated as if it did by successive administrations, including Mr. Obama's," according to the editorial.

Further, the editorial argues that the misreading of the amendment could constitute a violation of "Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which entitles all victims of armed conflict, including rape victims in war zones, to nondiscriminatory medical treatment."

In addition, the "flawed interpretation ... has even prevented foreign aid recipients from offering information about abortion -- at a public health conference abroad, for instance," the editorial notes (New York Times, 12/28/14).