Faith leaders ask Obama to relax abortion restrictions in foreign aid

Nearly three dozen representatives of faith-based organizations say they believe that women and girls who face sexual violence and rape “deserve meaningful access to the full range of reproductive health care options, including safe abortion.”

This story has been corrected to clarify the status of Larry Greenfield in the ninth paragraph.

By Bob Allen

Two Baptist ministers are among 33 faith leaders urging President Obama to clarify, if not repeal, the Helms Amendment, a 1973 amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act sponsored by the late Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) that prohibits paying for the “performance of abortion as a method of family planning.”

Leaders of Christian, Jewish and Muslim faith-based organizations published a letter May 14 asking the president to allow foreign assistance to pay for abortions in cases involving rape, incest and life endangerment.

The religious leaders said current foreign policy denying access to safe abortion in such cases is “immoral” and needs to change.

While they said they would like to see the Helms Amendment repealed altogether, they said it is “unacceptable” in the meantime “for our nation to continue to apply the Helms Amendment incorrectly.”

“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,” the letter said.

“Unfortunately, the Helms Amendment does just the opposite: it denies millions of women and girls access to safe abortion services. While ultimately we seek elimination of this law, at a minimum the executive branch of the U.S. government should clarify existing law so that in the cases of rape, incest and life endangerment, U.S. foreign assistance is allowed to support abortion access.”

larry greenfieldSigners of the letter, coordinated by the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and the Center for Health and Gender Equity, include Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, and Larry Greenfield, chair of the Religious Institute, a multifaith organization founded in 2001 to advocate “for sexual health, education and justice in faith communities and society.”

Gaddy, who recently announced plans to retire from the Interfaith Alliance at the end of 2014, also serves as pastor for preaching and worship at Northminster Baptist Church in Monroe, La.

Greenfield works as executive minister at American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago and is a former columnist for EthicsDaily.com, website of the Baptist Center for Ethics in Nashville, Tenn.

The faith leaders applauded steps taken already by the Obama administration to “establish a U.S. foreign policy that puts women and girls at its center and asked the president to “continue to build on this momentum.”

welton gaddy“Ensuring that U.S. policy and programs support the provision of comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services for women and girls globally — including safe abortion in the cases of rape, incest and life endangerment — is the natural extension of your policies,” they said. “It is also a moral imperative. “

“In the spirit of our shared religious support for peace, justice and human rights, we urge you to take executive action — such as an executive order — to help women and girls gain access to the health care they need and deserve by clarifying that U.S. law and policy supports access to safe abortion services in the cases of rape, incest and life endangerment,” the letter concluded.

Others signing the letter include Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State; Geoffrey Black, general minister and president of the United Church of Christ; and Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop and primate of The Episcopal Church.

Courtesy copies of the letter to the president were directed to administration officials including Melissa Rogers, executive director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Rogers is a lifelong Baptist who formerly worked for the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and Wake Forest University School of Divinity.