The Fight to Secure U.S. Abortion Rights Is Global

Excerpt of Ms. Magazine Op-Ed authored by GJC Special Counsel Michelle Onello and GJC Legal Advisor Elean Sarver.

The Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization stands to unleash devastating rollbacks on abortion across the United States, while also bringing domestic policy more in line with foreign policy. For decades, international aid restrictions have made abortion inaccessible abroad, resulting in significant harm—including death. While the forthcoming decision, and its catastrophic fallout, is not likely to have an immediate global impact, it will undercut efforts to remove these restrictions and embolden the anti-abortion lobby to further instrumentalize U.S. foreign policy to promote its ideology.

A central U.S global abortion restriction, the Helms Amendment has prohibited the use of foreign assistance for the performance of abortion “as a method of family planning” for nearly 50 years. The Helms Amendment has overridden national legislation in countries receiving aid and been over-implemented as a total ban on abortion, ignoring congressionally permitted exceptions in cases of rape, incest and life endangerment. It’s also disregarded a clarification, known as the Leahy Amendment, that permits information and counseling about abortion.

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Abortion: Ireland’s past is America’s future

Excerpt of The Hill Op-Ed authored by GJC Legal Director Dr. Christine Ryan.

This month, four years ago, media from across the globe descended on the courtyard of Dublin Castle. They traveled to capture the scene of thousands of Irish people celebrating the results of the Irish abortion referendum. A landslide majority had “repealed the 8th” and voted to change the country’s constitution to enable legal recognition of abortion rights for the first time in the state’s history. Generations of families cheered and cried together while politicians from warring parties embraced. Viewers abroad marveled at the displays of pride, rapture, and even love.   

To understand why the referendum result in Ireland prompted such outpourings is to understand the full meaning of the right to abortion. On the one hand, the right ensures that women and pregnant people of reproductive age can terminate unwanted or unsafe pregnancies without legal sanction. On the other, it signifies state recognition that women are equal agents in their societies, deserving of respect for their life choices. The right upends the assumptions that coerce women into predefined gender roles and rejects the seemingly immortal ideologies that accord women a lesser status. It demands that society trust women and that the law affirms their dignity and autonomy.

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U.S. would lag behind global abortion access if Roe v. Wade is undone, advocates say

Excerpt of NPR article that mentions the Global Justice Center.

International rights groups warned the U.S. Supreme Court last year that possibly overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade case that made abortions legal in 1973 would put it behind the curve of other countries that have been expanding access to abortion care.

Human Rights Watch says there is an international trend toward expanding abortion access.

Argentina legalized abortion in 2020, while Mexico decriminalized the procedure in 2021.

Statistics also show that in Ecuador, El Salvador, South Africa and Romania, the more restrictive abortion legislation is, the higher incidences of women dying or contracting diseases after giving birth are, according to a September 2021 brief submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The brief was submitted by Human Rights Watch in partnership with Amnesty International and the Global Justice Center.

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Symposium in Pursuit of Intersectional Justice at the International Criminal Court: Group Three – Observations on Forced Pregnancy – Protecting Personal and Reproductive Autonomy

Excerpt of Opinio Juris article co-authored by GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

In February 2021, nearly 20 years after the Rome Statute’s entry into force, the International Criminal Court (ICC) secured its first conviction for forced pregnancy as a war crime and a crime against humanity in the case against Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) commander Dominic Ongwen. In that 2021 judgment, the Trial Chamber found that the enumeration of the crime in the Rome Statute protects the distinct legal interest of personal and reproductive autonomy.

The Global Justice Center, Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice, Amnesty International and Dr. Rosemary Grey submitted an amicus brief to the Appeals Chamber on the definition of this crime, addressing questions that were raised in Ongwen’s appeal brief. In addition, in February 2022, at the invitation of the Appeals Chamber, we presented oral observations to the Court as amici.

This post summarizes the arguments made in our amicus brief and oral submissions, and very briefly comments on related arguments about the crime of forced pregnancy made by the Prosecution, Defence and victims’ legal representatives in this case.

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Symposium in Pursuit of Intersectional Justice at the International Criminal Court: Ongwen amici curiae Submissions from a Feminist Collective of Lawyers and Scholars

Excerpt of Opinio Juris article co-authored by GJC Senior Legal Advisor Angela Mudukuti.

On 4 February 2021, the International Criminal Court (ICC)’s Trial Chamber IX found Dominic Ongwen, a former commander in the Lord Resistance Army (LRA), guilty of 61 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Northern Uganda between 1 July 2002 and 31 December 2005. The 61 counts included 19 counts of sexual and gender-based crimes (SGBC) and notably among them charges of sexual crimes tried at the ICC for the first time, namely forced marriage as an inhumane act and forced pregnancy. On 6 May 2021, Trial Chamber IX sentenced Dominic Ongwen to 25 years of imprisonment. The Defence filed its appeal briefs against the conviction in July and against the sentence in August 2021. Between 14 and 18 February 2022, the Appeals Chamber (AC) held the appeal hearing.

Following the Defence’s appeal and prior to the AC hearing, on 25 October 2021, the AC  issued an order inviting “expressions of interest as amici curiae in judicial proceedings” with respect to the case against Dominic Ongwen. Particularly, the AC sought to receive observations from “qualified scholars and/or practitioners of criminal procedure and/ or international law, mental health law and/or neuroscience and law” on, inter alia, “sexual and gender-based crimes, especially the legal interpretation of the crimes of forced marriage, sexual slavery and forced pregnancy as well as the standards applicable to assessing evidence of sexual violence”. A group of feminist lawyers and scholars put their heads together to form what we will loosely call a Feminist Collective and submitted four separate amici briefs.  As an introduction to this symposium, this blog details the process and shares our personal reflections as members of the Collective.

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The Science is In: Abortion Bans Are a Public Health Emergency

Excerpt of Women's Media Center Op-Ed authored by GJC Program Coordinator Merrite Johnson.

Last month, the World Health Organization (WHO) published new guidelines on abortion care, developed through years of consultations with providers, researchers, and human rights experts. The release of this groundbreaking healthcare manual is timely for people in the United States, who are bracing for the end of Roe v. Wade and ensuing crackdowns on abortion access. It’s also a test for the Biden administration, who has made women’s healthcare a major talking point in its campaign to re-assert US leadership on human rights globally.

Most importantly, however, the guidelines can serve as an authoritative confirmation for what American reproductive rights activists have always known: abortion is essential healthcare.

The WHO’s guidelines take a radically simple approach to laws and policies on abortion, recommending both full decriminalization and that abortions be made available on request, without any grounds-based or gestational restrictions.

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Ukrainian Victims of Wartime Rape May Be Forced To Give Birth—All Thanks to This U.S. Policy

Excerpt of Ms. Magazine Op-Ed authored by GJC Legal Director, Dr. Christine Ryan.

Seeking protection from Russian bombing and shelling amidst a siege of their city, thousands of civilians in Bucha bunkered down in subways and basements. But for some, the reprieve from artillery was not enough. For women and girls, there was no shelter from the sexual violence inflicted by Russian soldiers.

Rape, sexual slavery and forced pregnancy are among the war crimes reportedly suffered by women and girls in Bucha and in wider Ukraine. Yet, the cruelty endured by these victims does not end there. Thanks to U.S. policy, abortion may be unavailable to these women and girls.

Because the Ukrainian health system is drastically strained, international humanitarian aid is playing an outsized role in delivering healthcare throughout the country. But all humanitarian aid provided by the U.S.—the largest single-country donor of humanitarian assistance to Ukraine—is subject to the Helms Amendment, which limits the use of U.S. foreign assistance funds for abortion. In this way, rather than alleviating their suffering, U.S. aid could be the reason that victims of wartime rape are denied abortions and forced to give birth.

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U.S. Says Myanmar Military Committed Genocide Against Rohingya

Excerpt of Wall Street Journal article that quotes Global Justice Center President Akila Radhakrishnan.

Calls to prosecute Myanmar’s generals have grown since February last year, when the military overthrew the civilian government of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. The military has since been accused of more abuses including arbitrary arrests, custodial torture and killing of civilians.

“This is a welcome, yet long overdue step from the Biden administration,” said Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center. “The same military who committed genocide against the Rohingya are those who are illegally in power as a result of a military coup—the cycle of impunity must be broken.”

In October 2016 and August 2017, Myanmar’s armed forces launched what they called “clearance operations” in response to attacks on state security forces by Rohingya insurgents in the country’s western state of Rakhine. Independent investigators from the U.S. and the U.N. concluded that Myanmar troops committed widespread atrocities: Civilians were tortured and killed, women were gang raped and children and elderly people were burned alive as entire villages were razed.

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Enabling access to quality abortion care: WHO's Abortion Care guideline

Fundamental to meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on health and wellbeing (SDG3) and gender equality (SDG5) is the recognition that access to sexual and reproductive health information and services is central to both individual and community health, as well as the realisation of human rights. Comprehensive abortion care, which includes information provision, abortion management, and post-abortion care, is an integral component of sexual and reproductive health and is a safe, simple health-care intervention that saves women's lives and safeguards their dignity and bodily autonomy.

Globally, abortion remains common, with 30% (three out of ten) of all pregnancies ending in induced abortion. However, estimates suggest that just over half (55%) of all abortions worldwide (and less than a quarter of all abortions in African and Latin America) can be considered as safe. Barriers—such as the scarcity of accurate information or providers and facilities that can safely provide services, restriction of available methods of abortion, abortion-related stigma, high costs, third party consent and other legal restrictions—have made it difficult or impossible for many women to access abortion care, which can lead them to use unsafe methods and negatively affect their sexual and reproductive wellbeing and health.

Fulfilling one of its core functions as a norms-setting agency, WHO has been providing recommendations related to abortion since 2003. With the release of the WHO Abortion Care guideline in March, 2022, WHO has consolidated and updated its recommendations, drawing on the evidence and data on the clinical, service delivery, legal, and human rights aspects of providing abortion care that have arisen over the past 10 years. In line with the WHO guideline process, formulation of recommendations by expert panels was based on available evidence and consideration of other criteria using the WHO-INTEGRATE framework. As a result, 54 evidence-based recommendations and two best practice statements focusing on the above-mentioned aspects of abortion care are presented in this updated guideline.

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Myanmar’s military has spent the year since the coup searching for international legitimacy. It has not found it.

Excerpt of Washington Post article that quotes Global Justice Center President Akila Radhakrishnan.

Lawyers for the Gambia argued this week that “now, even more than before, justice within Myanmar is impossible,” using the coup to argue that there cannot and will not be any resolution or accountability for the Rohingya inside the country. The risks that the Rohingya face, the lawyers added, have only intensified since the coup with armed conflicts raging all over the country.

The hearings — only the third genocide case the court has ever heard — show the military “that they will get hauled into court to respond to their actions,” said Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center.

“This is a military that has for decades committed crimes, and has intensified their crimes, toward the population at large,” she said. She and others believe the case is very likely to go ahead, particularly without the civilian government led by Suu Kyi to protect and shelter the military, though a resolution could take years.

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BBC Radio: International Court of Justice Hearings Begin

Excerpt of BBC Radio segment featuring Global Justice Center President Akila Radhakrishnan.

Also on the programme, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced the lifting of all Covid rules including the need to self-isolate after testing positive with the virus; and, Myanmar is back in The Hague over its genocide of the Rohingya but this time with a new leadership.

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Myanmar junta takes place of Aung San Suu Kyi at Rohingya hearing

Excerpt of The Guardian article that quotes Global Justice Center President Akila Radhakrishnan

Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Centre, said she did not believe the junta’s appearance before the court would lend legitimacy to the military. It was likely to simply reflect a continuation of the status quo in court procedures, she said.

Radhakrishnan added: “There is such a strong link between impunity and the coup occurring, and the fact that the military has very rarely faced any direct consequences, that I think there is import to the fact that they are learning that they will be hauled into court – and this time around, unlike 2019, they can’t hide behind Aung San Suu Kyi and the civilian government.”

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‘Important opportunity’: Myanmar Rohingya genocide case to resume

Excerpt of Al Jazeera article that quotes Global Justice Center President Akila Radhakrishnan

Rohingya and rights groups say despite the issue of representation, the case has gained added urgency because of the crackdown on the anti-coup movement since February 1, 2021. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), which has been tracking developments, says more than 1,560 people have been killed since the generals seized power, and that violence has also increased in ethnic minority areas.

“As the Myanmar military continues to commit atrocities against anti-coup protesters and ethnic minorities, it should be put on notice there will be consequences for these actions – past, present, and future,” said Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center. “The ICJ’s proceedings are laying the groundwork for accountability in Myanmar – not only for the Rohingya, but for all others who have suffered at the hands of the military.”

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UN court hearings set to resume into Rohingya genocide case

Excerpt of Associated Press article that quotes Global Justice Center President Akila Radhakrishnan

The court didn’t respond to a request for comment on Myanmar’s representation at the hearings.

“What’s really important here is that... if it is the junta that’s in court, this is not something that should be taken to confer legitimacy on the junta,” said Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center.

At public hearings in late 2019, lawyers representing Gambia showed judges maps, satellite images and graphic photos to detail what they called a campaign of murder, rape and destruction amounting to genocide perpetrated by Myanmar’s military.

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The whole world is watching for Biden's plan to protect abortion rights

Excerpt of The Hill Op-Ed authored by GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan and Ipas President Anu Kumar.

The first year of Joe Biden’s presidency came to a close just days before the 49th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Roe v. Wade, which has served as the foundation for Americans’ right to abortion ever since. Yet, it could be the last anniversary we ever celebrate.

In the next six months, the Supreme Court is set to rule in a case aimed directly at dismantling the constitutional protections established by Roe. Given the realities of a conservative Supreme Court and gridlock in Congress, executive branch leadership and support of abortion is critical. The time is now for the Biden administration and federal agencies to take every measure necessary to protect abortion access. But it shouldn’t stop at creative domestic approaches — an international perspective is also needed.

In the early days of his term, President Biden rescinded a policy known as the “global gag rule.” This policy restricted foreign non-governmental organizations that receive U.S. global health funds from using their own resources to engage in abortion-related work. While rescinding this policy is to be commended, it is also a low bar that every other Democratic president has cleared in the first days of their presidencies since the policy was first enacted in 1985 by the Reagan administration. To demonstrate a real commitment to protecting sexual and reproductive rights around the world, the Biden administration must dismantle structural policies that allowed the global gag rule to exist in the first place.

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The U.S. Can’t Be a Global Leader on Democracy While Banning Abortion at Home

Excerpt of Ms. Magazine Op-Ed co-authored by GJC Legal Advisor Elena Sarver.

Last month, the Supreme Court of the United States heard arguments in a case that could set off a new era of abortion bans across much of the country. It also marked the start of President Biden’s Democracy Summit, a high-level conference bringing together world leaders, civil society and the private sector to discuss challenges and opportunities facing democracy internationally. One of the stated themes of this first of two planned summits is a focus on human rights.

The proximity of these two moments is more than mere coincidence. Yes, the U.S. faces an unprecedented crisis for the right to abortion. But we must also recognize the numerous links between democracy and reproductive rights. A most basic and fundamental freedom in a democracy is the ability to control decision-making around one’s own reproduction. When this freedom is removed, it threatens the ability of half of the country’s population to participate equally in society. So, if the U.S. hopes to credibly host a marquee event to promote its return to global democratic leadership, it must contend with cracks in that facade here at home.

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Crimes Against Humanity: Little Progress on Treaty as UN Legal Committee Concludes its Work

Excerpt of Just Security Op-Ed co-authored by GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

The United Nations General Assembly’s legal committee again missed the opportunity to take action this year on the draft text of a new treaty on crimes against humanity proposed by the International Law Commission. The failure, in the form of a vote Nov. 18 on a draft resolution that simply took note of the draft articles, leaves a critical gap in the legal architecture for preventing and punishing mass atrocity crimes. The result deprives a range of victims and survivors the effective protection and justice they deserve.

As this series has demonstrated, it is imperative to adopt such a treaty for a host of reasons. Even amid substantive disagreements on what the new treaty should include, those cannot be debated and resolved until there is forward momentum and a concrete schedule for such discussions. However, despite overwhelming support from States to establish such a process this year, a few States that appear vehemently opposed to the project stalled concrete progress yet again.

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UN Recognition of the Myanmar Junta Will Hurt the World Body’s Moral Credibility

Excerpt of PassBlue Op-Ed from GJC partners Women's League of Burma.

Nine months ago, Myanmar witnessed the demise of what was still the beginning of a slow transition to a democracy. In the early morning hours of Feb. 1, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing and his fellow generals seized power in a well-orchestrated coup d’état. Soon after, the junta began rolling out a campaign of repression and violence. If history is any indicator of what to expect, the worst is yet to come.

While we prepare for this dangerous, uncertain future, diplomats at the United Nations are weighing a decision with massive implications for international action against the coup. The junta is demanding recognition as Myanmar’s official representative, despite its illegitimacy and crimes against its own people. The United States and China reportedly reached a deal that silenced Myanmar’s current representative, Kyaw Moe Tun, during September’s high-level addresses to the UN General Assembly. Yet the question of military recognition appears far from settled. The UN body tasked with decisions on official representation, the Credentials Committee, is set to meet on Dec. 1. The committee consists of the US, China and Russia as well as six other countries.

Here’s what we know: The people of Myanmar are tired of diplomatic compromises. They are urgently demanding that the UN reject the military junta in all forms. This is a regime that stole the November 2020 general election in which the National League for Democracy won a resounding landslide. Its bloody, illegal rule must not be rewarded by leading human-rights bodies like the UN.

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Mississippi abortion ban tees up Supreme Court to overturn Roe

Excerpt of Courthouse News article mentioning a legal brief by the Global Justice Center.

Proponents of the abortion right say bans like that of Mississippi will not prevent the practice but instead just make it less safe. An amicus brief from Human Rights Watch, the Global Justice Center and Amnesty International says unsafe abortions are one of the leading causes of maternal mortality and morbidity. 

“The lesson for this case is clear: If an abortion ban like H.B. 1510 is upheld, more women in Mississippi are likely to die,” the brief states. 

If the court were to overturn Roe, abortion providers say low-income and minority women would be impacted the most. 

“You just shouldn't be able to have access to an abortion only based off on where you live or how much money you make and what access you have, but right now in the United States, that's what's going on,” Brewer said. 

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Opinion: There is no middle ground on human rights — including abortion rights

Letter to the Editor from GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan to The Washington Post.

Aaron Tang’s Oct. 28 Thursday Opinion essay, “A view on abortion that originalists should embrace,” outlined a dangerous path forward for the Supreme Court that is in direct conflict with an internationally recognized fact: There is no “middle ground” on a human right.

It is abundantly clear that the six-week and 15-week abortion bans before the court violate human rights outlined in treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the United States has ratified.

In a 2018 “general comment” on the treaty, the U.N. Human Rights Committee made it clear that state parties, including the United States, may not “regulate pregnancy or abortion … in a manner that runs contrary to their duty to ensure that women and girls do not have to undertake unsafe abortions.” A decision to uphold either of these bans would put the United States out of compliance with its international legal obligations.

Human rights, including abortion access, can’t be negotiated away for reasons of political acceptability. It’s time American legal observers of all stripes recognize this, and for judges to take this into account.

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