Sister Jeannine Gramick, dissident nun and co-founder of the controversial New Ways Ministry, has joined with 30 other faith-based groups from the Protestant, Jewish and Muslim faiths to petition President Obama to clarify, then repeal the Helms amendment, which restricts aid funding for abortion services.
The Helms amendment, which was introduced in 1973, prohibits the use of U.S. aid monies to fund abortion as a method of family planning or to “motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions.” However, funds can be allocated to pay for abortions in case of rape or incest, or when the woman’s life is in danger.
In a letter released May 14, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and the Centre for Health and Gender Equity, the organizations which spearheaded the letter initiative, complain that the law has been misinterpreted as a total ban on abortion funding, and call for Obama to remove any restrictions on abortion funding as part of U.S. aid packages.
The Guardian explains the coalition’s objection to the Helms amendment:
“…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 US government should clarify existing law so that in the cases of rape, incest and life endangerment, US foreign assistance is allowed to support abortion access.”
Campaigners have been calling for a repeal of the law for years, saying it undermined US attempts to reduce maternal mortality. A report last year by the Guttmacher institute said the amendment had limited the ability of the US “to fully address the problems of unsafe abortion and maternal mortality and morbidity”.
Sister Gramick has long been in opposition to clearly defined Church teaching with regard to homosexuality, and a leading advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights. During Cardinal Ratzinger’s (Pope Benedict XVI’s) term as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, an investigation of her ministry was conducted. In 1999, the CDF declared her to be in grave doctrinal error and asked her to stop pastoral ministry with the gay and lesbian community. The following year, her own congregation instructed her to stop speaking publicly about homosexuality. Her response was a refusal to cooperate. Sister Gramick said,
“I choose not to collaborate in my own oppression by restricting a basic human right [to speak].”
Instead, she transferred to the Sisters of Loretto, a left-leaning congregation which has defied the Vatican and supported her ministry to the LGBT community.
Following is the full text of the letter to President Obama, including the list of signatories.
May 14, 2014
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20500
United States of America
Dear President Obama,
We write as leaders of faith-based organizations who are committed to women’s health and human rights throughout the world. Although we come from different religious traditions, we are united in our belief that women and girls who face sexual violence and rape deserve meaningful access to the full range of reproductive healthcare options including safe abortion.
To this end, we urge you to use your executive authority to end the longstanding misinterpretation of the Helms amendment, which in current practice denies women and girls access to safe abortion services even in cases of rape, incest and life endangerment.
We believe that it is unacceptable—and in fact immoral—for our nation to continue to apply the Helms amendment incorrectly. As you know, the Helms amendment prohibits foreign assistance from being used to “pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions.” 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. 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.
We applaud the unprecedented steps taken by your administration to establish a U.S. foreign policy that puts women and girls at its center. The National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security; the White House Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence; and the newly launched Safe from the Start Initiative demonstrate a deep commitment to the health and human rights of women and girls globally.
As faith leaders, we ask that you continue to build on this momentum. 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. 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 healthcare 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.
Rev. Harry Knox
President and CEO
Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice
Dr. Michael J. Adee
Global Faith and Justice Project
Rabbi Jon Adland
Chair, Clergy Advocacy Board
Planned Parenthood Federation of America
Rev. Geoffrey A. Black
General Minister and President
United Church of Christ
Rev. Pat Bumgardner
Global Justice Institute
Rabbi Marla J. Feldman
Women of Reform Judaism
The Reverend Canon Carol Cole Flanagan
St. John’s Episcopal Church & School, African Palms USA
Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy
Sister Jeannine Gramick
National Coalition of American Nuns
Rev. Dr. Larry Greenfield
Rev. Debra W. Haffner
President and CEO
The Rev. Dr. Timothy Hart-Andersen
Westminster Presbyterian Church, Minneapolis, MN
Rev. Dr. Susan Henry-Crowe
General Secretary, General Board of Church and Society
The United Methodist Church
Mary E. Hunt, Ph.D.
Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER)
Nancy K. Kaufman
National Council of Jewish Women
Rev. Marti Keller
Unitarian Universalist Women’s Federation
Former President, Catholics for Choice
Center for Health, Ethics and Social Policy
Rabbi Debra Kolodny
Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
Rev. Barry W. Lynn
Americans United for Separation of Church and State
Rev. Peter Morales
Unitarian Universalist Association
Methodist Federation for Social Action
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church
The Rev. William F. Schulz,
Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
Reverend Martha Shiverick
Immediate Past President
The Clergy Advisory Board
Planned Parenthood Federation of America
Reverend Jan Taddeo
Unitarian Universalist Minister
Rev. Dr. Jon M. Walton
The First Presbyterian Church in the City of New York
Rabbi Arthur Waskow
The Shalom Center
CEO and Executive Director
Jewish Women International
Marcia J. Weiss
Vice President and National Advocacy Chair
Rev. Dr. Nancy L. Wilson
Moderator and Global Leader
Metropolitan Community Churches
Founder and President
Muslims for Progressive Values
CC: J. Mark Brinkmoeller, Director, Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, USAID
Shaun Casey, Special Advisor to the Secretary of State for Faith-Based and Community
Initiatives, U.S. Department of State
Melissa Rogers, Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships