(PRESS RELEASE) This week the United States government rejected recommendations from the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Norway, and Belgium urging the Obama administration to implement the Helms Amendment correctly—preventing women worldwide from accessing safe, legal reproductive care.
A U.S. delegation responded to a range of issues at the Human Rights Council-- the U.N.’s main human rights body—as part of a review of the country’s human rights record. In its response, the U.S. signaled it will continue to implement the Helms Amendment as a total ban on the use of foreign assistance funds for safe abortion services—despite the fact that the policy on its face permits such use in at least the cases of rape, incest, and life-endangerment.
Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO at the Center for Reproductive Rights:
"The United States prides itself as a model of human rights and gender equality, yet its policies undermine women’s access to fundamental sexual and reproductive rights.
“For too long, this Administration and those before it have paid lip service to women worldwide instead of working to fix the broken policies and practices that violate their human rights.
“The U.S. must honor its commitments to ensure comprehensive access to health care for all women at home and abroad, including but not limited to maternal health care and safe abortion services.”
Responding to the recommendations, the U.S. accepted “in principle” that it must ensure access to sexual and reproductive health services to victims of sexual violence in conflict situations – though based on the government’s rigid stance on the Helms Amendment, such services would presumably not include abortion care – even for victims of sexual violence.
The U.S. also acknowledged that it must improve access to maternal health services in the United States. In accepting a recommendation from Finland to “ensure equal access to quality maternal health services and related services as an integral part of the realization of women’s rights,” the U.S. assumed a commitment to address systemic barriers to access and quality maternal health care, especially for African American women who are three to four times more likely to die in childbirth than white women. This recommendation echoes a call by the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in August 2014 to reduce severe racial disparities in maternal mortality.
In addition to rejecting recommendations related to the Helms Amendment, the U.S. rebuffed calls from the governments of Portugal, Peru and Honduras to extend health care access for undocumented immigrants, especially women and children.
In the past year, two U.N. human rights bodies have been critical of the United States for the discriminatory policies against immigrants in access to affordable health care. In March, the U.N. Human Rights Committee urged the U.S. to ensure that all immigrants have access to adequate health care, and in August the CERD recommended policy changes to improve access to affordable health care for all immigrants regardless of their status.