US funding for abortion: How the Helms and Hyde Amendments harm women and providers

March 2016

US funding for abortion: How the Helms and Hyde Amendments harm women and providers

Ipas, Ibis Reproductive Health. US funding for abortion: How the Helms and Hyde Amendments harm women and providers. March 2016. 

More than 40 years ago, the Helms Amendment became the first abortion funding restriction enacted by the U.S. Congress. Three years after its enactment, in 1976, the Hyde Amendment, which also restricts abortion funding, was put into place through the annual appropriations process. Both restrictions make it difficult for the most vulnerable women to access safe abortion. And while the Helms Amendment prohibits funding for abortion through U.S. foreign aid, the Hyde Amendment prohibits coverage of abortion in the United States through federally funded health insurance programs like Medicaid. The Helms and Hyde restrictions disproportionately affect young, poor, women of color across the globe. 

U.S. abortion restrictions are out of step with international standards and the recognition of abortion as a human right. Abortion is referenced in several intergovernmental consensus documents and international and regional human rights documents including United Nations conference consensus documents, United Nations Treaty Monitoring Committees’ guidance to governments, African regional conference consensus documents and a regional human rights treaty. In 2005, the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, also known as the Maputo Protocol, became the first human rights treaty to explicitly address women’s right to safe abortion.And notably in 2011, abortion was recognized in the report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to health, which called on states to rescind criminal and restrictive laws related to abortion, comprehensive sexuality education, contraception, and conduct during pregnancy; and to ensure that abortion is safe, accessible, and of good quality. The World Health Organization asserts that laws, policies, and practices that restrict access to abortion deter women from seeking safe services and instigate a “chilling effect” among reproductive health-care providers. 

This report, produced by Ipas and Ibis Reproductive Health, is the first inclusive report on how the Helms and Hyde Amendments harm access to abortion. It highlights the ways in which them Amendments violate human rights, impose barriers on access to safe abortion for women and young women, and tie the hands of the health-care providers who serve them.