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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Abortion and Family Planning-Related Provisions in U.S. Foreign Assistance Legislation and Policy

Luisa Blanchfield
Specialist in International Relations

This report details legislation and policies that restrict or place requirements on U.S. funding of abortion or family planning activities abroad. The level and extent of federal funding for these activities is an ongoing and controversial issue in U.S. foreign assistance and will likely continue to be a point of contention during the 112th Congress.

These issues have been debated for over three decades in the context of a broader domestic abortion controversy that began with the Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade, which holds that the Constitution protects a woman’s decision to terminate her pregnancy. Since Roe, Congress has enacted foreign assistance legislation placing restrictions or requirements on the federal funding of abortions and on family planning activities abroad. Many of these provisions, often referred to by the name of the lawmakers that introduced them, have been included in foreign aid authorizations, appropriations, or both, and affect different types of foreign assistance. Examples include: 

  • the “Helms amendment,” which prohibits the use of U.S. funds to perform abortions or to coerce individuals to practice abortions; 
  • the “Biden amendment,” which states that U.S. funds may not be used for biomedical research related to abortion or involuntary sterilization; 
  • the “Siljander amendment,” which prohibits U.S. funds from being used to lobby for or against abortion; 
  • the “Kemp-Kasten amendment,” which prohibits funding for any organization or program that, as determined by the President, supports or participates in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization; and 
  • the “Tiahrt amendment,” which places requirements on voluntary family planning projects receiving assistance from USAID. 
The executive branch has also engaged in the debate over international abortion and family planning. In 1984, President Ronald Reagan issued what has become known as the “Mexico City policy,” which required foreign non-governmental organizations receiving USAID family planning assistance to certify that they would not perform or actively promote abortion as a method of family planning, even if such activities were conducted with non-U.S. funds. The policy was rescinded by President Bill Clinton and reinstituted by President George W. Bush. It was rescinded by President Barack Obama in January 2009 and remains a controversial issue in U.S. foreign assistance.

This report focuses primarily on legislative restrictions and executive branch policies related to international abortion and family planning. For information on domestic abortion laws and international population assistance, including funding levels and U.S. programs, see 

  • CRS Report RL33467, Abortion: Judicial History and Legislative Response, by Jon O. Shimabukuro, and 
  • CRS Report RL33250, International Family Planning Programs: Issues for Congress, by Luisa Blanchfield.

Date of Report: June 22, 2011
Number of Pages: 16
Order Number: R41360
Price: $29.95

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