The Religious Institute calls for full reproductive justice for all women, including equal access to abortion services for low-income women. The Helms and Hyde amendments prohibit U.S. federal aid from funding abortions both internationally and nationally, and by doing so create an economic injustice for low-income women. Here, you can learn more about these amendments and the importance of comprehensive reproductive health care, including abortion services. We hope that these materials will allow congregations and religious leaders to advocate for comprehensive reproductive health care for all women as part of their commitment to women’s equality and economic justice.
“Poverty [and] social inequities…may render a woman virtually powerless to choose freely. We call for a religious and moral commitment to reproductive health and rights.” –Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Abortion as a Moral Decision
“The lack of sexual and reproductive health services in many parts of the world is an affront to moral agency and a threat to justice and equality.” –Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Maternal Mortality and Reproductive Justice
What are the Helms and Hyde Amendments?
The Helms amendment (1973) prevents federal aid from funding abortions internationally “as a method of family planning.” In practice, overly cautious enforcement of the Helms amendment has prevented support of abortions even in cases of rape, incest, and danger to the life of the mother. The amendment has also been enforced in a way that censors discussion of abortion and counseling services in any kind of reproductive health program supported by US money, impedes the provision of post-abortion care, and causes problems and inefficiencies for organizations working to address the reproductive health needs of women and girls in developing countries.
The Hyde amendment (1976) prevents Medicaid in the U.S. from paying for abortions except in cases of rape, incest and danger to the life of the mother.
Why are they harmful?
The Helms and Hyde amendments disproportionately affect low-income women, whether in the US or abroad, who rely on federal funds. By impeding abortion access for these women, the amendments prevent women from obtaining needed medical care, require them to choose between abortion services and necessities like food and shelter, and/or increase the likelihood that a woman will undergo an unsafe abortion procedure. Both amendments exacerbate circumstances of poverty and marginalization, threaten women’s lives, and effectively deny women autonomy over their own bodies.
Why should my faith community care?
Many religious traditions incorporate injunctions to care for those who are marginalized and vulnerable. Throughout time, religious leaders have urged their followers to work for justice and well-being in the world. These amendments cause further harm for precisely those people who regularly suffer the most. Our religious affirmation of the dignity and worth of all people requires us to address the injustices these amendments bring about.
What can we do?
- Let elected officials know you care. Call or write your congressional representatives, expressing concern about the Helms and Hyde amendments. Take a look at the sample letter provided here for an example.
- Tell the president to allow federal foreign aid funds to pay for abortions in cases of rape, incest and danger to the life of the mother by joining the petition here. The Religious Institute and several prominent religious leaders have already signed on.
- Stay up to date by following one or more of the organizations listed below and staying informed on developments related to the Helms and Hyde amendments and other reproductive health issues.
- Talk about these issues in your religious community. Many may not know about the reality of reproductive health care, especially for low-income women here and abroad. Speak from your faith in describing why these amendments are so concerning.
Religious Institute Resources
All Above All (the Religious Institute is a partner organization)
Center for Health and Gender Equity
Center for Reproductive Rights
National Network of Abortion Funds
Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice