Over thirty leaders of faith-based groups across the U.S. called on President Obama to ensure safe access to abortion services worldwide as part of U.S. foreign policy in a message sent to the White House.
The letter, coordinated by the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and the Center for Health and Gender Equity, specifically brought attention to the Helms amendment. The Helms amendment is a provision which prevents the funding of abortion services when used as a means of family planning, but does not prohibit U.S. financial assistance with abortion in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment.
The letter states in part:
Although we come from different religious traditions, we are united in our belief that women and girls who face sexual violence and rape deserve meaningful access to the full range of reproductive healthcare options including safe abortion. To this end, we urge you to use your executive authority to end the longstanding misinterpretation of the Helms amendment, which in current practice denies women and girls access to safe abortion services even in cases of rape, incest and life endangerment.
We believe that it is unacceptable—and in fact immoral—for our nation to continue to apply the Helms amendment incorrectly. As you know, the Helms amendment prohibits foreign assistance from being used to “pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions.” When a pregnancy is a result of rape or incest, or when a pregnancy is a threat to the life of a woman, safe abortion can and should be made available and accessible, and U.S. foreign assistance should support such access.
“For many women in dire situations abroad, US-funded programs are the best—and in many situations the only—option they have for receiving safe reproductive healthcare," said Rev. Harry Knox, President/CEO of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, in a press release sent to the Huffington Post. "In our view, turning away these women in need when we could so easily help them violates one of our most basic religious values: compassion. At the very least, the administration should follow the existing the law and abandon the current practice of denying women access to abortion even in cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is at stake.”
Rape is shockingly common in areas devastated by violent conflict. According to RCRC and CHANGE, reports show that 48 women and girls between the ages of 15 and 49 are raped every hour in eastern Congo.