August 01, 2022

Lee, Schakowsky, Blumenthal, and Booker Lead Colleagues in Pressing Federal Agencies to Reinforce Helms Amendment Exceptions to Countries and Organizations That Receive U.S. Foreign Assistance

Washington, DC – Today, Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA-13), Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL-09), U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), led a group of 76 Members of Congress in urging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of State, and U.S. Agency for International Development to immediately communicate to countries and organizations that receive U.S. Foreign Assistance that U.S. assistance is permitted to provide abortion care in cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment. For over five decades, the Helms Amendment - which bans U.S. Foreign Assistance "as a method of family planning" - has been incorrectly interpreted as a total ban on U.S. Foreign Assistance being used for abortion care.

“As we write, there are mounting reports of Russian forces inflicting rape, sexual slavery, and forced pregnancy on Ukrainians,” wrote the Members of Congress in a letter to Secretary Xavier Becerra, Secretary Antony Blinken, and Administrator Samantha Power. “As currently applied, Helms Amendment restrictions on U.S. foreign assistance funds mean that none of the more than $1.2 billion in U.S. humanitarian aid can be used to support victims who need access to safe abortion.”

In addition, the Members of Congress emphasized the timeliness of clarifying the exceptions to the Helms Amendment following the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision, which revoked the constitutional right to abortion in the United States.

“The impact of the Dobbs decision far exceeds our borders,” concluded the Members of Congress. “We know that many countries that have long used the Roe v. Wade decision to support legalizing their abortion laws will now face challenges. Issuing guidance on the exceptions to the Helms Amendment will ensure that the United States is not impeding access to health care that is protected under local law in other countries.”

In the House of Representatives, the letter was led by Congresswomen Barbara Lee and Jan Schakowsky and signed by the following 53 U.S. Representatives: Allred, Auchincloss, Bass, Beyer, Blumenauer, Anthony Brown, Brownley, Carson, Castor, Chu, Clarke, Cleaver, Connolly, Crist, Crow, Danny Davis, DeFazio, DeGette, DeLauro, DeSaulnier, Doggett, Eshoo, Espaillat, Frankel, Jesús “Chuy” García, Grijalva, Hayes, Himes, Houlahan, Lieu, Lofgren, Carolyn Maloney, McCollum, McGovern, Meng, Moulton, Norton, Omar, Pingree, Pocan, Price, Quigley, Rice, Scanlon, Schiff, Soto, Speier, Strickland, Titus, Trahan, Welch, Nikema Williams, and Frederica Wilson.

In the Senate, the letter was led by U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Cory Booker and signed by the following 19 Senators: Baldwin, Bennet, Brown, Duckworth, Durbin, Feinstein, Gillibrand, Hirono, Klobuchar, Leahy, Markey, Merkley, Murphy, Murray, Padilla, Sanders, Tina Smith, Warren, and Wyden.

The full text of today’s letter can be found here.


Congresswoman Lee is a member of the House Appropriations Committee and Chair of the Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations. She serves as Co-Chair of the Steering & Policy Committee, former Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Chair Emeritus of the Progressive Caucus, Co-Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus Health Task Force, and Co-Chair of the Pro-Choice Caucus. She also serves as Chair of the Majority Leader’s Task Force on Poverty and Opportunity. As a member of the House Democratic Leadership, she is the highest ranking Black woman in the U.S. Congress.