This Sunday, December 17, is the 44th anniversary of the Helms Amendment.
What is the Helms Amendment and why should we care about it?
The simple answer to the first part of that question is that it is language added to the 1973 foreign aid bill. It reads:
No foreign assistance funds may be used to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions.
The Helms Amendment was the first federal legislative attack on abortion rights in the post-Roe era.
But of course nothing to do with abortion is ever simple. Think of the Senate in December 1973, just 11 months after the Roe v. Wade decision made abortion legal. In the intervening months the war in Vietnam ended; Henry Kissinger visited China; the Watergate hearings and the first trials of the conspirators began; Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned after being convicted of accepting bribes; President Nixon named Gerald Ford to replace Agnew; there were bloody coups in Greece and Chile; the Yom Kippur War was fought in the Middle East; Saudi Arabia led the oil embargo against the United States, raising gasoline prices from 25 cents per gallon to more than a dollar; Nixon tried to stop the Watergate investigation by firing the special prosecutor, Archibald Cox; the top two people in the Justice Department resigned rather than do so, leaving Robert Bork to carry out that order, in what became known as the Saturday Night Massacre; eventually Nixon was compelled to turn over his tapes after fighting the order in court.
In other words, 1973 was a turbulent year, a time of great change and political turmoil in Washington. Continue reading