A snapshot of US International Abortion Policy, 1970–Present


A glance at the road to preserving and advancing safe abortion rights throughout the world post-Roe v. Wade.


2015 – Senator Barbara Boxer leads a bipartisan group of 17 Senators in reintroducing the Global Democracy Promotion Act, which would permanently repeal the Global Gag Rule. Senator Boxer has introduced this bill in previous Congressional sessions.

Congresswoman Nita Lowey leads a record number of original co-sponsors in introducing the Global Democracy Promotion Act in the House of Representatives. 

2014  The House and Senate pass the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill to fund most of the federal government for the remainder of fiscal year 2015. The bill included a technical fix to provide exceptions for payment for abortions for Peace Corps volunteers in the cases of life, rape, or incest. This modifies a 35-year old total ban on any funding for abortion services for Peace Corps.

2014 Senator Jeanne Shaheen introduces an amendment, which the Appropriations Committee approved, to permanently protect overseas family planning providers from reinstatement of the Global Gag Rule. The same amendment was passed in 2013. From 2009 to 2012, the late Senator Frank Lautenberg had championed this cause.

Unfortunately, this amendment has never been included in a bill that has gone to the President's desk for signature.

Pathfinder supports safe abortion programs in Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique, Peru, Tanzania, and Uganda.


2009 – President Barack Obama rescinds the Global Gag Rule.

2003 – President George W. Bush expands the scope of the gag rule to include organizations receiving funding through the State Department.

2001 – Pathfinder collaborates with several leading sexual and reproductive health and rights organizations to study the impact of the gag rule on international family planning and reproductive health services as part of an initiative called “Access Denied: The Global Gag Rule Impact Project.”

2001 – President George W. Bush reinstates the gag rule.

Pathfinder supports safe abortion services in Angola, Bolivia, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Ghana, Haiti, India, Mozambique, Nepal, Nigeria, Romania, and Uganda.


1994 – Senator Patrick Leahy introduced an amendment clarifying the Helms Amendment that stated, "For purposes of this or any other Act authorizing or appropriating funds for the Department of State, foreign operations, and related programs, the term 'motivate,' as it relates to family planning assistance, shall not be construed to prohibit the provision, consistent with local law, of information or counseling about all pregnancy options."

The Leahy provision addressed concerns that providing information or counseling about all legal pregnancy options could be viewed as violating the Helms amendment.

1993 – Pathfinder co-founds the Postabortion Care Consortium, hosting the group’s inaugural meeting.

1993 – President Bill Clinton rescinds the gag rule.

Pathfinder begins safe abortion care work in Azerbaijan, Bolivia, Ecuador, Kazakhstan, and Peru.

1990 – Pathfinder resumes safe abortion work after a landmark court case clarifies that the Global Gag Rule recognizes a US-based NGO’s right to use private funds without any government interference, exempting US-based NGOs from the Global Gag Rule. The court also ruled that USAID is permitted to provide support for postabortion care services.


1985 – Pathfinder initiates a postabortion care program in Brazil.

Pathfinder files a lawsuit challenging the Global Gag Rule, and files amicus briefs in support of two other abortion-related cases.

1984 – International abortion restrictions expand when the Reagan administration announces the Mexico City Policy. Widely known as the "Global Gag Rule", the executive order prohibits US funds from going to organizations that provide any abortion-related information, education, services, or referrals to services.


1973 – The US Supreme Court hands down landmark Roe vs. Wade decision, establishing a woman’s right to choose abortion to terminate a pregnancy.

1973 – Congress passes the Helms Amendment which restricts, but does not prohibit US foreign assistance funding for abortion services. Under the amendment, US foreign assistance funding may not pay for the “performance of abortion as a method of family planning," but it can fund abortion services for non-family planning purposes, such as abortions for women whose life is threatened by a continued pregnancy, or women who are the victims of rape or incest. 

Despite the fact that current law permits foreign assistance funds to cover abortions in the cases of life, rape, or incest, the Helms Amendment is applied as a blanket ban for any and all abortion-related services.

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