US Human Rights Network Blog

US Human Rights Network Blog

 

 

USHRN Signs on to Statement in Support of Reproductive Rights

Mar 29, 2021

NOTE: Important additions have been made to the original letter. Here is the latest version of the letter calling for implementation of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) recommendations on US abortion restrictions on foreign aid.  If, following the latest additions, you would like to opt-out of the letter, please reach out by COB April 9, 2021 to Elena Sarver, Legal Advisor at Global Justice Center, at esarver@globaljusticecenter.net

At the UPR of the US before the Human Rights Council in November 2020, a number of countries made formal recommendations during the session for the US to take action on this issue. The Netherlands explicitly called for the US to repeal the Helms amendment and in the interim to allow US foreign assistance to be used for safe abortion in cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment. The adoption of the final outcomes of the US review took place last week.

If your organization would like to sign on, please follow the link here to add your organization's name to the letter, no later than COB Tuesday, March 30.

The full letter can be found below.

---
Dear President Biden,

We, the undersigned organizations, welcome your administration’s reengagement of the United States (US) with the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) and recommitment to promoting human rights. We also applaud you for revoking the Global Gag Rule (also known as the Mexico City Policy) within your first ten days in office, and now we ask you to go further to implement “the policy of the US to support women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive health and rights in the US, as well as globally.” Therefore, in light of your administration’s response to the recommendations made to the US during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) before the HRC in Geneva last November, we are writing to urge you to take further steps to implement the UPR recommendations made with regard to sexual and reproductive health and rights, including by taking executive and administrative action to ameliorate the harmful impact of US abortion restrictions on foreign aid, particularly the Helms Amendment.

During the UPR, the US was called on to strengthen its support for sexual and reproductive health and rights at home and abroad. A number of countries made formal recommendations for the US to take action on its restrictions on foreign assistance, and we commend your support of these recommendations. The Netherlands called on the US to “repeal the Helms Amendment...and, in the interim, allow United States foreign assistance to be used, at a minimum, for safe abortion in cases of rape, incest and life endangerment.” During the UPR adoption, the United Kingdom specifically addressed its “hope that the US can go further and clarify its interpretation of the Helms Amendment, and ensure universal access to safe abortion care.” In order to implement these recommendations, we encourage you to take steps to:

-- Take executive action and issue guidance from relevant agencies and departments to clarify and implement US foreign assistance support for abortion care to the maximum extent allowed under the Helms Amendment, namely by immediately clarifying that funds can be used to support abortion care provided in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment of the pregnant person.
-- Issue guidance from relevant agencies and departments to proactively clarify that US foreign assistance may be used for abortion information and counseling under the Leahy Amendment.
-- The White House Gender Policy Council, with its focus on promoting sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) domestically and globally, must prioritize the removal of abortion funding restrictions like the Helms Amendment, in addition to addressing many other important SRHR priorities, in order to bring US policy in line with its human rights obligations and the administration’s stated commitment to advancing global health and equity.
-- Ensure robust support for sexual and reproductive health and rights, including eliminating Helms and similar abortion coverage restrictions from the Fiscal Year 2022 budget.

The UPR recommendations bring attention to the US’ need to address its restrictions on foreign assistance, namely the Helms Amendment, and its current implementation as a total ban on funding for abortion services. As written, the law restricts the use of US foreign assistance for “abortion as a method of family planning”. This does not include cases of rape, incest, or life-endangerment; however, lack of clarity around the law has prevented the use of funds in these cases, even in humanitarian emergency settings. The Leahy Amendment clarifies that information and counseling on abortion is expressly permitted. However, some US grantees are unable to provide it out of confusion or overabundance of caution because of the chilling effect of abortion restrictions like the Global Gag Rule and the Helms and Siljander Amendments. This over-implementation denies not only abortion services in cases of rape, incest, or life-endangerment, but also critical health information to countless people despite being permitted under the law. The Biden Administration can unilaterally implement humanitarian and development programs that make abortion services available to those whose lives are endangered by a pregnancy or are survivors of rape or incest, including in conflict zones. The administration can also do more to proactively clarify and implement funding for abortion information and counseling where legally permissible.

The US is the largest funder of global health, including family planning, and is the only donor nation to single out abortion in this way. Many US abortion restrictions, including the Helms Amendment, have consistently been in place for decades, causing generations’ worth of harm — and they will continue to do so if action is not taken. This is a matter of utmost urgency as bodily autonomy and reproductive freedom are increasingly under siege.

We appreciate your expressed commitment to protecting and advancing human rights, health, and gender equality. The Trump Administration caused untold damage to global health systems, especially to sexual and reproductive health and rights. The Helms Amendment must be congressionally repealed and we urge your administration to expressly support H.R. 1670, the Abortion is Health Care Everywhere Act, which repeals the Helms Amendment and replaces it with proactive language allowing for funding of comprehensive abortion services, training and equipment. Furthermore, we ask that you also remove the Helms language, and other abortion funding restrictions, from your annual budget proposal. You can act now to begin to mitigate the harm caused by the Helms Amendment around the world by permitting the use of foreign assistance for abortion care in cases of rape, incest, life endangerment, and clarifying for grantees that abortion information and counseling are permissible. As a critical step that could help move the US in line with its human rights obligations and reassert US leadership, we urge you to implement the UPR recommendations and take decisive action to ensure that US aid serves its purpose: To alleviate suffering and save lives.