Washington View, June 2023

Written by Brian Dixon, Senior Vice President for Governmental and Political Affairs | Published: June 12, 2023

Proactive Efforts to Protect Reproductive Freedom

Members of Congress call for increased support for global family planning

Both the House and Senate have begun the process of determining federal funding priorities for Fiscal Year 2024, which begins on October 1, 2023. In preparation for these deliberations, 125 members of the U.S. House sent a letter to Appropriations Committee leaders making the case for international family planning funding and policies. Led by Reps. Diana DeGette (D-CO) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), the letter asks for an investment of $1.74 billion for family planning programs in aid-recipient countries. This figure represents the U.S. share of global support necessary to help the 218 million women in the developing world who want to prevent or delay pregnancy but have an unmet need for contraceptives.

The letter also calls for a provision to prevent a future president from reimposing the Global Gag Rule, for the prioritization of support for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and its work to provide crucial services in more than 150 countries, and for the elimination of the Helms Amendment which has been used to deny overseas aid for safe, legal abortion care under any circumstances for 50 years.

A similar letter to Senate Appropriations leaders was signed by 37 senators. Led by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Chris Murphy (D-CT), this letter urges funding for family planning programs of no less than $820 million—an increase of $212.5 million from the stagnant level of the last several years. The Senate letter also urges a provision to prevent a future imposition of the Global Gag Rule as well as robust support for UNFPA.

Global HER Act reintroduced

In late March, the Global Health, Empowerment, and Rights (HER) Act, a bill to prevent a future president from reimposing the Global Gag Rule, was introduced in both houses of Congress. Led by Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Ami Bera (D-CA), and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) in the House and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) in the Senate, the legislation has garnered strong support.

When introducing the House bill, Rep. Lee said:

This bill is about more than health: It is a guarantee that American foreign assistance dollars will never be weaponized as a tool of oppression. It is about ensuring women in communities around the world can write their own stories and determine their own futures.

Sen. Shaheen commented, when introducing the Senate bill:

The Global Gag Rule has had detrimental effects on the ability of women around the world to access important health services and reproductive care. What’s more, health centers impacted by the Global Gag Rule are often the only providers women and their families have access to in vulnerable parts of the world, which further exacerbates access to comprehensive family health care services for already at-risk populations. While President Biden rescinded this harmful policy, Congress must act to ensure it can never be implemented again by a future administration.

The Global HER Act (H.R.1838, S.1098) currently has 162 cosponsors in the House and 50 in the Senate.

Bill repealing Helms Amendment reintroduced

Originally passed in 1973 as a response to the Roe v. Wade decision, the Helms Amendment bars the use of foreign assistance funding to pay for “abortion as a method of family planning.”

This funding limitation has, since its adoption, been enforced as an outright ban on abortion under any circumstances. It has undermined public health and undercut human rights around the world. It is bad health policy. It is bad foreign policy. It’s a relic of U.S. antiabortion politics that is utterly disconnected from the reality of the lives of the people it affects.

On March 22, the Abortion Is Health Care Everywhere Act was introduced in the House and Senate by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), respectively. This legislation will repeal the Helms Amendment and create a new standard of U.S. support for comprehensive reproductive health care services as part of its global health funding.

When she introduced the bill, Rep. Schakowsky (D-IL) said:

For nearly 50 years, the racist, harmful Helms Amendment has barred U.S. foreign assistance from being used to offer abortion care, even in countries where abortions are legal. The United States should not stand in the way of health care and bodily autonomy in other countries. Developing countries bear the burden of 97 percent of all unsafe abortions. We must protect women’s health around the globe. By singling out abortion as a restricted health service, the Helms Amendment reinforces efforts to criminalize abortion and heightens abortion-related stigma.

In each of the last two years, the House Appropriations Committee has deleted the Helms Amendment from the annual State Department and Foreign Operations spending bill, but it was added back in both times before the bills became law.

The Abortion Is Health Care Everywhere Act (H.R.1723, S.929) currently has 156 cosponsors in the House and 24 in the Senate.

Democratic governors form coalition to protect abortion access

In response to the Supreme Court’s decision to eliminate the federal right to abortion and resulting efforts to ban abortion in states across the country, 21 governors, all Democrats, have joined together to protect access to care.

More than 170 million people live in the states included in the Reproductive Freedom Alliance. The states making up the Alliance include solidly Democratic bastions like California and New York, but also include swing states such as Michigan, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania.

In a joint statement, the Alliance wrote, “As governors representing more than 170 million people across every region of the country, we are standing with all people who believe in reproductive freedom and health care. We are standing with them to say, enough.”