Illinois Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky has introduced the “Abortion Is Health Care Everywhere Act of 2020” to repeal the Helms Amendment, which prohibits the use of U.S. foreign assistance to pay for abortion as a method of family planning. But, the Act, even in its title, assumes more than many Americans are willing to accept.
Millions of Americans reject that abortion can ever be considered health care, and remain opposed to the use of taxpayer funds for the killing of unborn life. It is no surprise that they remain opposed to exporting, much less subsidizing, the practice abroad.
For nearly 50 years, the Helms Amendment has forbidden the U.S. government from doing just that. While taxpayer dollars may go to organizations that perform abortions, they may not be used toward that end. And as the U.S. Supreme Court just reaffirmed, the government has every right to withhold funds from international groups that do not support American interests. The aim of the Act is to lift Helms prohibitions, and allow for the full funding of abortion internationally.
The Congresswoman argues that the Helms Amendment must be repealed on the basis of both its stigmatizing and racist origins and effects. In her view, the Amendment stigmatizes the practice of abortion, casting it as “illegitimate” health care. She explains that this forces providers to distinguish between real health care and abortion, thus limiting access to abortion. She states that the Amendment “hinders billions of individuals from being able to exercise their reproductive rights.” But in reality, it keeps American taxpayers from footing the bill for abortions in developing countries.
The debate on abortion is stronger than ever at home in the U.S., so it follows that the U.S. government should not be promoting or paying for abortions abroad. Yet the new Act ignores the fact that many Americans voice pro-life positions, vote for representatives that defend the rights of the unborn, and expect to see our foreign policy follow suit. For these Americans, abortion can never be “legitimate” health care. The best response to this national climate, then, is a continued ban on promoting and paying for abortion internationally.
The Congresswoman also unfairly condemns the Amendment’s life-saving goal as racist. In her view, the Amendment constitutes an attempt “to control the health care and bodily autonomy of Black and brown people around the world.” Not only is this a deeply skewed and ill-founded line of reasoning that exploits the current national conversation on race, but also it showcases the entrenched hypocrisy of the abortion movement.
It is beyond dispute that the history of abortion is intrinsically linked to racism, which continues to inform international development efforts to this day. Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, openly espoused eugenicist views. And Marie Stopes, the originator of the Marie Stopes International abortion mega-group, once wrote: “When Bills are passed to ensure the sterility of the hopelessly rotten and racially diseased…our race will rapidly quell the stream of depraved, hopeless and wretched lives which are at present ever increasing proportion in our midst.”
As an international legal expert with a decade of experience at the United Nations, I witness the daily efforts of diplomatic representatives from the developing world to resist the bullying of pro-abortion leaders in the West. In these countries, abortion is illegal or highly restricted, and this is not a result of some backwards vestigial legal accident—these are cultures that affirm and protect the value of unborn life.
African representatives, in particular, often receive non-negotiable dictates to cater to Western ideas of “human rights.” This is a racism that transpires most visibly at the political level in which poor countries are coerced into changing their laws and norms in order to benefit from UN aid money. Abortion is pumped into developing countries as a means of population control, and in tandem, all possible avenues, including the importation of DIY abortion kits, are pursued to circumvent abortion restrictions.
The UN’s overarching abortion promotion goes hand in hand with a deep xenophobia that transpires, largely unseen, inside UN deliberations. Diplomats of the developing world are personally typecast as backwards for challenging Western impositions as they stand up for their sovereign prerogative to protect unborn life.
The Congresswoman is correct to highlight the positive implications of our current national experience—“what’s special about this moment is that people across the country seem to be actually coming together and doing something about it.” But painting the pro-life cause as racist in an effort to repeal the Helms Amendment could not be further from the truth.
The Helms Amendment is crucial for the protection of American pro-life interests, and must be vigilantly safeguarded. Furthermore, as our country tackles difficult conversations, now is the time to unmask where the real racism of the abortion debate lies.
Elyssa Koren is the director of United Nations advocacy in New York City for Alliance Defending Freedom International.