European Parliament Members Ask President Obama to End Inhumane Abortion Ban on Aid to War Rape Victims

On March 7, 2013, the European Parliament issued an open letter to President Obama, urging him to lift US abortion restrictions on aid to war rape victims.

The Global Justice Center's August 12th Campaign challenges the denial of life-saving abortions to girls and women who are raped and impregnated in armed conflict, as a violation of the Geneva Conventions.

This letter highlights the fact that the US "no abortion" clause negatively affects how aid from foreign governments can be administered because it is often pooled together. As a result, humanitarian aid organizations on the ground are often unable to provide medically-necessary abortions to girls and women who have endured the horrors of war rape.

Click here to read the letter from the MEPs to President Obama.

 

Here is the press release issued by the MEPs:

D66 Press Release

Brussels, 7 March 2013

MEPs urge Obama to rescind US abortion ban for women raped in armed conflict

In an open letter to United States President Barack Obama, Members of the European Parliament Working Group on Reproductive Health, HIV/AIDS and Development (EPWG) urge the head of state to immediately lift US abortion restrictions on humanitarian aid for girls and women raped and impregnated in armed conflict. "Withholding war raped women the right to safe abortion as a result of US development aid policy is a form of violence against women and girls, priority theme at the UN Commission on the Status of Women in New York", says Chair of the EPWG, Dutch Liberal Democrat Sophie in 't Veld.

In 't Veld and colleagues have been campaigning for the EU and its Member States to no longer accept the US imposed ban. "Europe must speak up for those women, and urge our American friends and allies to immediately abolish the ban."

The US imposes a "no abortion" clause on its foreign aid, which in practice means that humanitarian organizations that receive US funding neither talk about nor provide safe abortions to victims of war rape. In 't Veld comments: "Rape is being used as a weapon of war, destroying lives, families and communities. Women victims are already punished enough and should not be denied the right to a safe termination of the resulting unwanted pregnancy."

Every year, tens of thousands of girls and women are raped during armed conflicts. More than two-thirds of conflict-related rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are gang rapes, one third of the victims are girls under the age of 18. Given that many girls and women in the DRC are raped in the context of sexual slavery, they incur the greatest risk of pregnancy. In 't Veld: "The fact that United States is the world’s largest provider of humanitarian aid has enabled it to impose its policy on abortion on neutral organizations, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross. The US should make a distinction between abortion as a means of family planning and termination of pregnancy as a medical necessity."

CSW 57: Commission on the Status of Women

This month is International Women’s Month! We are joining several groups tomorrow, March 7, at 12pmET to discuss abortion coverage restrictions and the consequences that it has on women. Follow #hydehurts and #helmshurts on twitter and join us in being a voice for many women around the world who are unable to speak out!

The Commission on the Status of Women is being held at the UN during these next two weeks, and GJC will be in attendance as a consultative member of the NGO working group on women, peace, and security. Janet Benshoof, GJC president, will be speaking on two panels to highlight the importance of ending violence against women in conflict.

The Global Justice Center is working diligently to advocate for gender inequality in conflict and post conflict situations. Our August 12th Campaign is challenging the routine denial of medical rights to war rape victims as a violation of the right to non-discriminatory medical care under the Geneva Conventions. Thousands of girls and women raped in armed conflict are routinely denied their rightful access to safe abortions, and we must put a stop to this. Furthermore, girls and women are raped daily to accomplish military objectives, including genocide. Rape is more effective and cost effective than any other unlawful weapon used in armed conflict today, yet it is routinely overlooked by the international community. GJC’s Rape as a Weapon of War project is working to ensure that states using this method of warfare are held accountable for their actions.

Stephanie Johanssen, legal counsel for European and UN affairs at GJC, has been working tirelessly on behalf of GJC as a member of the working group on women, peace, and security to monitor implementation of Security Council resolutions on the role and rights of women in conflict situations. GJC uses its consultative status with the United Nations to be a leading voice urging UN bodies to fulfill their obligations to act against fundamental law violations. The UN is the epicenter of global efforts to end impunity for perpetrators of war crimes, and gives GJC the ideal access point to strengthen the impact of our legal arguments.

Please support us in making a difference in the lives of thousands of women worldwide!

CSW 57: The Gap between Image and Reality

The 57th session of the Commission of the Status of Women (CSW) is over and the agreed conclusions have been adopted. Some delegations made reservations but did not block the adoption of the final draft. Every year, the CSW session also serves as a forum for UN member states to do a bit of PR for themselves. Words like “committed,” “dedicated,” “acknowledge,” and “affirm” are heard often and most countries have an interest to show the world how they are leaders when it comes to furthering women’s rights. However, all too often, these statements stand in stark contrast with a country’s foreign policy. The United States is one example.

In explaining the US position on the Agreed Conclusions of this year’s CSW, U.S. Deputy Representative to ECOSOC Terri Robl, said in a statement on March 15: “Reproductive rights and the full implementation of these international agreements are essential to the prevention, mitigation and elimination of violence against women and girls. The United States reaffirms our continuing commitment to protect and promote reproductive rights.” If the United States is committed to protect and protect women’s reproductive rights why not lament the Agreed Conclusion’s weak reference concerning the right to safe abortion access which was limited to national laws?

Because reality looks very different:

USAID administrative policy, formally adopted in 2008, contains no exception for abortions for rape or to save the life of the rape victim, and is, at least on paper, more restrictive than federal statutory requirements (including the Helms Amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act, which first placed abortion restrictions on foreign aid in 1973).

As the largest provider of humanitarian aid in the world and by funding most major humanitarian actors, the US is able to dominate the field of humanitarian aid with its no abortion policy and is responsible in large part for the global failure to provide the option of abortion to victims of war rape. Many have joined with the Global Justice Center to challenge this inhumane US policy as a violation of the rights of girls and women to non-discriminatory medical care under the Geneva Conventions.

CSW may be over, but the time is now for the US to live up to its rhetoric.

European Women Lawyers' Association

August 12, 2011

Letter sent to President Obama by the European Women Lawyers' Association as a part of the GJC's "August 12th Campaign" that he issue an Executive Order lifting US abortion restrictions on humanitarian aid.

Download PDF

Global Justice Center's Letter to President Obama

August 12, 2011

Letter sent to President Obama by the Global Justice Center as a part of the GJC's "August 12th Campaign" asking that he issue an Executive Order lifting US abortion restrictions on humanitarian aid.

The letter was also signed by: Alliance for Justice; American Jewish World Service; Association for Women's Rights in Development; Center for Health and Gender Equity; Center for Women's Global Leadership; Center for Women Policy Studies; Consortium on Gender, Security and Human Rights; Engender, South Africa; Feminist Majority Foundation; Femmes Africa Solidarite; Gender Action; Global Network of Women Peacebuilders; International Federation of Women Lawyers; FIDA, Kenya; FIDA, Nigeria; Legal Momentum; National Organization for Women Foundation; Partners in Health; Physicians for Human Rights; Unione Degli Atei E Degli Agnostici; Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, U.S. Section; and V-Day.

Download PDF

EngenderHealth's Letter to President Obama

August 18, 2011

Letter sent to President Obama by EngenderHealth as a part of the GJC's "August 12th Campaign" asking that he issue an Executive Order lifting US abortion restrictions on humanitarian aid.

Download PDF

Network for Africa Letter to President Obama

June 13, 2012

Letter sent to President Obama by Network for Africa as a part of the GJC's "August 12th Campaign" asking that he issue an Executive Order lifting US abortion restrictions on humanitarian aid.

Download PDF

UK Queen's Counsel Letter to President Obama

February 1, 2012

Letter sent to President Obama by a group of UK Queen's Counsel as a part of the GJC's "August 12th Campaign" asking that he issue an Executive Order lifting US abortion restrictions on humanitarian aid.

Download PDF

United Kingdom Pledges to Ensure Abortion Access for Women Raped in War

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - January 10, 2013 

[NEW YORK, NY] - The United Kingdom (UK) announced a historic change in their policy on abortions for women raped in armed conflict, a move that should have enormous global impact on health care given women in war zones. UK government spokesperson, Baroness Northover, speaking in the House of Lords on January 9, 2013, acknowledged that girls and women raped in armed conflict have absolute legal rights to comprehensive medical care, including abortions when medically necessary, under common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

Global Day of Action: Help GJC fight for safe abortion access for girls & women raped in war

For over two decades, women’s rights organizations in Latin America have mobilized around September 28th, which is also the day slavery was abolished in Brazil. Today, the Global Justice Center joins the Women’s Global Network for Reproduction Rights, who have declared September 28th Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion. As part of our August 12thCampaign, GJC fights for full medical rights for girls and women raped in war, including access to safe abortions. We urge President Obama to lift the blanket abortion on US humanitarian aid that denies a girl or woman raped in war the option of an abortion, even in life/threatening situations.

War rape victims are forced to carry the child of their rapists in conflict areas such as Burma, the Democratic Republic of Congo or the Sudan, where systematic rape is often used as a weapon of war. It is even used to accomplish military goals such as genocide and ethnic cleansing. Apart from being inhumane, the American ban also violates the Geneva Conventions, which guarantee non-discriminatory medical care to the “wounded and sick”. The situation is presented in a recent article by GJC Senior Counsel Akila Radhakrishnan, published in The Atlantic.

Sign the petition on Global Action Day, or donate to the GJC and help us in the fight to lift the ban, on behalf of girls and women raped in war.

Todd Akin Redux! – Rep. Rick Berg Supports Prison for Rape Victims Choosing Abortion

Senatorial Candidate Rep. Rick Berg. Credit: David Samson, The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead.

Hot on the heels of Rep. Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” firestorm, yet another senatorial candidate has taken an extreme and inhumane stance on a rape victim’s right to choose. In 2007, Rep. Berg (R-ND) voted in favor of a bill that would criminalize abortion, even in cases of rape. The North Dakota penal code knows four categories of felony, ranging from AA to C with AA carrying the severest punishment of a life sentence. It is telling that the bill Berg voted for lists abortion as Class AA “crime”. Horrifically enough, sexual crime classifies as category B offense. In essence, the bill results is a penal system that punishes the victim and not the perpetrator.

The bill was never signed into law, and even if it were, the Supreme Court would have struck it down as unconstitutional. Yet, while Republicans and Democrats have both distanced themselves from these views calling them extreme in domestic policy, punishing war rape victims is mainstream in American foreign policy.

Last year the Global Justice Center launched our “August 12th” campaign, and we continue leading the charge to urge President Obama to issue an executive order lifting the abortion ban on US humanitarian aid, a policy that “twice tortures” war rape victims by denying them their full medical rights, including access to safe abortion services. Consistent with Rep. Berg’s views, USAID’s policy bars recipients of American aid from providing critical services and information about safe abortion options to girls and women in conflict zones impregnated through rape—even in life-threatening cases. These recipients include NGOs and other humanitarian agencies working on the ground in conflict areas such as Burma, Congo or the Sudan, where rape is systematically used as a weapon of war. Current US policy hinders these organizations in helping rape victims. The Atlantic recently published a GJC article about this critical issue. The 1973 Helms Amendment, which is cited as the legal background for USAID’s policy, only prohibits the funding of abortion as a means of family planning—it should not be interpreted as applying to cases of rape or where a woman’s life is in danger. In fact, the current interpretation undisputedly violates international humanitarian law and the Geneva Conventions. It is time to change this.

In wake of the Akin scandal, President Obama emphasized a women’s right to make her own health choices. It is now time for the President to take action and issue an executive order lifting the ban. Restore full medical rights to these girls and women who have suffered the horrors of rape and war.

DNC: Rhetoric vs. Action

From the Wall Street Journal to CNN, everybody feels Democrats at the DNC have been relentless about women’s right to make their own choices. According to Michelle Obama, the president believes women “are more than capable of making our own choices about our bodies”. In the words of Nancy Pelosi, a vote for President Obama is “a vote for women’s rights”. Deval Patrick would keep the government out of a woman’s decision whether to keep an unwanted pregnancy. Obama himself says Washingtion politicians “should not control women’s health care choices”.

Why then does America’s government, through the the policies of USAID, deny the right to an abortion for girls and women systematically raped in conflict areas like the Congo, Burma and the Sudan? Join the GJC’s August 12 campaign and urge president Obama to lift the abortion ban.

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett Supports False Claim of Nearly Nonexistent Pregnancy Rates Resulting From Rape

Once again, we are left speechless by the extreme rhetoric used to describe rape victims. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) added vitriolic fuel to the controversy sparked by Rep. Todd Akin’s comments regarding pregnancy rates resulting from “legitimate rape.” In addition to the offensive attempt to distinguish acts of rape – rape is rape; their claim of nearly nonexistent pregnancy rates resulting from rape is scientifically entirely false.

One would imagine that since Akin’s comments gained international scorn, politicians would be more prudent and rational when discussing the topic of abortion. The lesson to be learned clearly went amiss for Rep. Bartlett who, in a similar comment to Akins’ said, “There are very few pregnancies as a result of rape, fortunately, and incest — compared to the usual abortion, what is the percentage of abortions for rape? It is tiny. It is a tiny, tiny percentage.” The remark, was made at a town hall meeting when pressed to reiterate his stance on abortion. And while he recently modified his stance to include exceptions of life threatening situations, rape, and incest, his comment reflects an ignorance about the horrors of rape and its devastating consequences.

Yet despite immediate condemnation, the fact is US foreign policy does not stray far from Bartlett and Akin’s beliefs. The US currently places a blanket ban on abortion aid, denying abortion options to girls and women raped in war. According to the 1973 Helms Amendment, “no foreign assistance funds may be used to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning.” USAID wrongly interprets this statement to include circumstances of rape. This inhumane policy does not even allow for abortion in the case of life-threatening circumstances. For women and girls in nations such as Burma, Sudan, and Congo where systematic rape is used widely as a weapon of war, this ban on abortion “twice tortures” them. Furthermore, this policy is in direct conflict with international law and the Geneva Conventions, which guarantee indiscriminate medical care for victims of rape. As America continues its national discussion of abortion laws, it is critical that we do not forget those suffering abroad from the horrors of rape and war. President Obama must seize this moment to act. Join the Global Justice Center in urging him to issue an executive order lifting the ban. It is a necessary step to help victims of rape in conflict areas and to show solidarity with rape victims everywhere.