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Project December 3, 2015

Unsafe Abortion in Kenya and the Ripple Effects of U.S. Foreign Aid Policy


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This worker at a reproductive health clinic in the Kibera slum of Nairobi denied that she performs abortions. However, a number of community members identified her as a well-­known provider of under-the-table terminations. Image by Jake Naughton. Kenya, 2015.

Since 1973, the Helms Amendment has prohibited U.S. foreign assistance money from being used to pay for abortions, except in cases of rape, incest, or when the mother's life is in danger. But the Obama administration is interpreting that policy too strictly, ignoring the exceptions, and USAID's misguided enforcement of the law in Kenya is creating a massive reproductive health crisis.

Abortion is legal in Kenya but virtually impossible to access due to widespread confusion about the rules, and some abortion providers have reported being arrested and bribed by local policemen who are taking advantage of that confusion.

USAID's restrictive interpretation of Helms, combined with the high rates of sexual assault in Kenya, is driving women to seek deadly back-alley abortions. About 125,000 Kenyan women die of unsafe abortions annually, and the maternal death rate from abortion in Kenya is more than twice the global average.

Journalist Laura Bassett and photographer Jake Naughton travel to Kenya to interview the women and doctors affected by this crisis and to investigate the role of U.S. politics in the situation.


Three women grouped together: an elderly woman smiling, a transwoman with her arms folded, and a woman holding her headscarf with a baby strapped to her back.


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