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Sponsor of bill to fund abortions with U.S. foreign aid slurs late Sen. Jesse Helms as 'racist'

"It's a disgrace that Rep. Jan Schakowsky or anyone else would use such a vile word to describe Sen. Helms," fired back the president of the Jesse Helms Center in Wingate, N.C.

Updated: March 12, 2021 - 12:37pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

Illinois Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky slurred late North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms as a "racist" when promoting new legislation she is sponsoring that would repeal the longstanding Helms Amendment, which prohibits U.S. foreign aid from funding abortion.

"The real issue is that abortion is health care, and the Helms Amendment has now got to go," Schakowsky said on Tuesday during an event hosted by the organization IPAS.

Schakowsky said low-income women of color around the world are being denied financial help from the U.S. government for safe abortions due to the Helms Amendment. 

"Jesse Helms was a well-known and self-proclaimed, really, racist, and the Helms Amendment follows in that pattern — it is racist," she alleged.

Brian Rogers, president of the Jesse Helms Center in Wingate, N.C., fired back at Schakowsky in an interview Thursday.

"It's a disgrace that Rep. Jan Schakowsky or anyone else would use such a vile word to describe Sen. Helms, a man ... whom they had never met," Rogers told Just the News. 

"That said, in our view, nothing could be more racist than advancing a policy of aborting a child anywhere in the world as a method of family planning, which is what the Helms Amendment was designed to avert," Rogers added.

Schakowsky's bill, the Abortion is Health Care Everywhere Act of 2021, would "amend the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to authorize the use of funds for comprehensive reproductive health care services, and for other purposes."

According to the text of the bill, U.S. law "restricting United States foreign assistance funding from being used to provide safe abortion services has the effect of harming people who seek to terminate their pregnancies in several ways, including by blocking access to services and erecting barriers to providers obtaining the training and equipment needed to deliver care to those in need."

The bill refers to safe abortion as a "critical component of comprehensive maternal and reproductive health care and should be included as part of foreign assistance programs funded by the United States government."

Rebecca Oas, director of Research for the Center for Family and Human Rights, disagreed with abortion rights activists who argue that repealing the Helms Amendment would result in safer abortions abroad.

"Many countries that receive assistance from the U.S. prohibit abortion in all but extreme cases, such as where the life of the mother is at stake or where the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest," Oas wrote in a piece posted at her organization's website. "In such places, the vast majority of abortions currently occurring 'unsafely' are already illegal, and the U.S. could not assist in making them 'safe' without violating the sovereign laws of that country."

The March for Life Education Fund refers to the Helms Amendment as a "life saving" law. 

"The policy which shares his name has been referred to as one of the most important public health initiatives in history, credited with saving literally millions of lives since its enactment," according to the organization. "Sadly it is also under attack by pro-abortion forces and lawmakers who want abortion to be free for all women and paid for by taxpayers like yourself."

Schakowsky predicted her bill, which currently has 100 Democratic co-sponsors, will pass in the House. 

"I feel confident we will be able to have the votes," she said. "I'm very optimistic that we'll be able to move this."

Schakowsky said there's a "robust discussion" going on about eliminating the legislative filibuster in the Senate, which would pave the way for passage of this measure and others with only a simple majority.

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