The systemic use of rape as a tactic of war is horrifying, life threatening, and a war crime. For those girls and women victims who become pregnant, their suffering is exacerbated and prolonged by the near universal denial of abortions in humanitarian medical settings. In places where war rape is rife, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Sudan or Burma, the option of abortion could save the lives of many girls and women.
The Global Justice Center (GJC) is launching a critical campaign to ensure that girls and women raped and impregnated during armed conflict are provided with comprehensive and non-discriminatory medical care, as guaranteed to them under the Geneva Conventions.
Rapes that result in pregnancy have significant, sometimes deadly, physical, psychological and social consequences. Girls and women raped in armed conflict face increased rates of maternal mortality. Further, where women are denied abortions, they may resort to “non-sterile” or “non-medical methods” which can lead to death, infection, scarring or sterilization. The psychological consequences of rape and a resulting pregnancy are also severe. In fact, the denial of access to safe abortion for rape victims has been characterized as torture or cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment by various international human rights bodies. Women impregnated by rape are often ostracized by their communities, face spousal abandonment and physical violence by family members.
Unfortunately, this group is denied complete medical care when the service providers tasked to treat them in humanitarian medical settings are unable or unwilling to provide them with information about or access to abortions. The denials violate their rights under the Geneva Conventions and customary international humanitarian law (for more information please see the Global Justice Center’s brief, The Right to an Abortion for Girls and Women Raped in Armed Conflict: States’ positive obligations to provide non-discriminatory medical care under the Geneva Conventions).
The US is the largest donor of humanitarian aid globally and a major reason for the near universal omission of the option of abortion for impregnated rape victims in conflict. This can be attributed to the blanket abortion restrictions the US places on all its foreign assistance, including humanitarian aid. These US restrictions contain no exceptions for rape or to save the life of the woman. Thus, all foreign governments, NGOs and humanitarian aid providers receiving US funds are prevented from providing the option of abortions to girls and women raped in armed conflict. Furthermore, funds provided by the US government often get commingled with funds from other donors for humanitarian assistance programs and can have the effect of subjecting the entire pool of funds to the US abortion restrictions.
The current US administrative policy, adopted in 2008 (see USAID AAPD 08-01) is far more restrictive in practice than what is statutorily required (see the Helms Amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act of 1973) and violates US responsibilities under international law. The policy constrains states and numerous organizations directly providing services to victims of rape during armed conflict. These restrictions are unaffected by the lifting of the “Global Gag Rule” by President Obama, because the executive order revoking the gag rule explicitly keeps all other US abortions restrictions firmly in place. To comply with its international obligations, the US must modify its policy and practices.
The GJC is coordinating a letter writing campaign to President Obama, urging him to issue an executive order lifting these restrictions on humanitarian aid in situations of armed conflict. Let our leaders know that you believe girls and women raped in armed conflict deserve complete medical care. Please sign the petition below.
Therefore, I urge you to uphold the rights of these women and issue an executive order instructing all agents and departments under your authority to ensure that abortion restrictions are not attached to US foreign aid for humanitarian assistance in situations of armed conflict. Then, women and girls raped and impregnated during war can and will be provided with comprehensive and non-discriminatory medical care dictated by their medical condition, including the option of abortion.
Change on this policy is long overdue - it not only exacerbates the trauma suffered by girls and women raped in armed conflict but it also violates their rights under international law.
U.S. humanitarian aid should relieve human suffering, not prolong it.