Global Justice Center Blog

Netherlands Affirms Right of Women Raped in Armed Conflict to Abortions as Part of Necessary Medical Care Under International Law

Frans Timmermans, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands and Lilaane Ploumen, Minister of Foreign Trade and Development, just affirmed to parliamentary questions submitted in March 2013 in the Netherlands that the foreign ministry agrees with the UK that abortion can be a necessary medical procedure under international humanitarian law, which then must be provided regardless of national laws in countries. The questions were asked by Parliamentarian Sjoerd Sjoerdsma, a Member of the Dutch party D66.

Timmermans and Ploumen state ”It is our opinion that raped women and girls in war zones have the right to any and all necessary medical care of great quality, this includes safe abortions”. The Netherlands also stands ready to engage the US on the issue of the Helms amendment ban on abortion as an obstacle to ensuring women their IHL rights.

An unofficial English translation can be found here.

The Parliamentary questions (in Dutch) can be found here.

The answers (in Dutch) from the Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken are available here.


Irish Abortion Debate Further Ignites Tensions Over Women’s Rights

A recent controversial death in Ireland has sparked worldwide debate regarding abortion. Savita Halappanavar, a young woman suffering from a potentially life-threatening miscarriage, was denied a life-saving abortion due to Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws. According to reports by Mr. Halappanavar, Savita was told told that an abortion could not be performed because “Ireland is a Catholic country”. The couple had also been informed that the fetus had no chance of survival, but that an abortion could not take place until the fetal heartbeat had disappeared.  Oddly, Ireland’s constitution itself states that abortion is legal, even if there is a fetal heartbeat, if there is a “real and substantial risk” to the life of the woman. This condition was clearly present in this case, as Ms. Halappanavar was pronounced dead only a week later. The fetus was eventually removed, but by then it was too late, causing Ms. Halappanavar to die from sepsis (infection of the blood). The problematic wording of the constitution’s requirement of “real and substantial risk” to the mother’s life clearly allows a great deal of subjectivity and discretionary action on the part of the physician. During the official inquest, hospital physicians have stated that there was nothing that could have been done to save the young woman because there was no substantive risk to her life until a few hours before her death. However, leading Irish obstetrician Dr. Peter Boylan admits that Ms. Halappanavar most likely would have survived had the abortion taken place a day or two before she became ill. It’s understandable why women around the world are outraged about the blatant violations of Halappanavar’s rights- violations that also occur in many countries around the world. How long are we going to allow women to have their health rights violated before a change is made? These unacceptable violations do not occur only in Ireland, but throughout the world, particularly in developing nations. That’s why Global Justice Center’s August 12th campaign is so adamant about bringing justice to women around the world who are being denied their rightful access to abortions. Whether in a conflict zone or a peaceful area, women’s lives should never be put at risk because of a practitioner’s religious or social beliefs. Every woman is entitled to life, and not allowing a woman to have an abortion takes away her fundamental right to live and make decisions for her own health. The denial of abortion rights to women is unjust, and in Ms. Halappanavar’s case, unlawful, and women worldwide must take action to ensure that this is put to an end.

Santa Barbara Women Lawyers' Letter to President Obama

March 11, 2013

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


Rape and forced pregnancy are frequently part of violent attacks intended to torture or even kill girls and women. Those who survive such rapes frequently suffer from life-long physical, psychological and social consequences. These consequences are amplified for those girls and women who become pregnant from the rapes. Girls and women who survive these attacks often lack access, funds or information to abortion- related services; thus denying them the full range of health care services.

All victims of armed conflict are entitled to receive complete, appropriate and non-discriminatory medical care. The United States abortion restrictions on humanitarian aid undermine the rights of survivors of rape in armed conflict to non-discriminatory medical care and should therefore be lifted.

Download PDF

Lessons Learnt on Violence Against Women and Girls

Friday, March 8, 2013, 11:30-13:00

At Baha'i International Community Offices

The European Association of Women Lawyers, NAWO, the Global Justice Center and others will be hosting the event “Lessons Learnt on VAGW: A better future including establishing a UN Convention on VAGW." GJC President Janet Benshoof will be talking on using the rule of law to stop Violence Against Women and Girls. 

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."