Ninety humanitarian and human rights groups call on European Commission to provide abortion services to women and girls in war zones

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE -November 23, 2017

[NEW YORK and GOMA]– On Saturday, the world celebrates the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. In anticipation of this day, a global coalition of ninety civil society organizations calls on the European Commission to ensure that abortion, a medical procedure, is included in the medical care offered to women and girls, particularly in areas where rape is used as a weapon of war. 

Global Justice Center Applauds Senate Committee Vote Against Global Gag Rule

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - September 8, 2017

[NEW YORK, NY] – On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee moved to reinstate funding for the United Nations Population Fund and overturn Trump’s reinstatement and expansion of the Global Gag Rule. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen from New Hampshire proposed an amendment to the 2018 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill that would overturn Trump’s expanded version of the Gag Rule, reinstate US contributions to UNFPA and limit the power of any future president to reinstate the Gag Rule. The amendment was approved with the votes of two female republicans, Senator Collins from Maine and Senator Murkowski from Alaska, but still needs to pass the full senate to become law.

US Abortion Restrictions: An Explainer

President Trump’s expanded Global Gag Rule is being implemented through standard provisions issued by all affected agencies and sub-agencies, including:

Except for some small non-material language, these regulations are substantially the same across agencies. To provide context, GJC has annotated USAID’s Standard Provisions for Non-US Non-Governmental Organizations (ADS 303), which is the primary vehicle through which this censorship is being effected. These regulations also include provisions which implement other US abortion restrictions on foreign assistance, including the Helms and Siljander Amendments, which restrict the activities of all recipients of US foreign assistance.

This annotation highlights, explains and contextualizes the laws and policies that restrict or place restrictions on U.S. funding of abortion or family planning services abroad.

Background: After the US Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Roe v. Wade (which held that the U.S. Constitution protects a woman’s decision to terminate her pregnancy), Congress began restricting abortion access through funding restrictions both domestically (Hyde Amendment) and abroad (the Helms Amendment). Over the years, the funding restrictions on foreign assistance have grown and now encompass all US foreign aid through their incorporation into annual appropriations acts, which are then implemented by agencies providing foreign aid, primarily USAD and the State Department. These congressional restrictions limit what can be done with US funds.

 In 1984, President Reagan expanded these restrictions on foreign NGOs through the “Mexico City Policy” (or Global Gag Rule) and began limiting with those organizations could do with their funds from any donor. The Gag Rule was rescinded by President Clinton, reinstated by President Bush, rescinded by President Obama and reinstated and expanded by President Trump.

Today, all entities receiving US foreign aid cannot speak about or provide abortions with US funds in any circumstances, including rape, life endangerment and incest. Furthermore, foreign NGOs receiving US global health assistance aid must now certify that they will not actively promote or provide abortion services as a method of family planning with funds from any donor and all NGOs receiving US global assistance funds cannot partner with or sub-grant to any foreign NGO that won’t certify the same. As a result, today, the United States is denying necessary and safe medical care to women and girls around the world in violation of their rights under international law.

This annotation seeks to demystify US abortion restrictions and map how and where they are put into place.  

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GJC Weekly News Roundup

Thursday, abortion rights groups—including the Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood— filed a lawsuit against Texas over new abortion restrictions. Six weeks ago, Texas passed Senate Bill 8, which bans the most common and safe type of second-trimester abortion. It also requires healthcare providers to bury or cremate fetal remains, whether they’re from abortions, stillbirth or miscarriages. The lawsuit seeks an injunction and a ruling that the law is unconstitutional. Seven other states have created similar bans, and legal challenges have been filed against the bans in three. This is the third time this year that Texas has defended its abortion restrictions in federal court.

Friday, The New York Times reported on how nondisparagement agreements hide sexual harassment in the workplace by creating a culture of secrecy. They are becoming increasingly common and are often included in the standard employment contracts of many industries, especially the tech industry. They can have a chilling effect that prevents women from speaking up or taking legal action on harassment. Harassers are able to continue their behavior, and women are unable to know the history of their workplaces and colleagues.

Saturday, across the Middle East, public awareness campaigns are pushing to repeal marry-your-rapist laws—laws that allow rapists to avoid criminal prosecution by marrying their victims. The laws are based on ideas that a family’s honor depends on a woman’s chastity, and marriage after a rape can avoid scandal for the family. Activism and women’s education have propelled the movement against the laws. Morocco repealed their law in 2014, and votes are coming in Lebanon and Jordan.

Tuesday, the Guardian published an extended feature piece on Yazidi women. It shares the stories of women who were there when ISIS carried out a mass abduction of women that led to institutionalized rape. It also focuses on the way the Yazidi women are continuing a long history of resistance. “It was only much later in my reporting on how some Yazidi women managed to escape and return,” Cathy Otten writes, “that I became aware of how important stories of captivity and resistance were to dealing with trauma, both historically and in relation to Isis.”

Tuesday, Gillian Triggs, outgoing President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, said that human rights in Australia are “regressing on almost every front” and the government is “ideologically opposed to human rights.” She attributed the worsening human rights treatment to Australia’s lack of a bill of rights, causing the courts to be “very, very hamstrung in standing up for human rights.” She also said that counterterrorism legislation is centralizing government power and impeding on human rights without judicial supervision. 

Thursday, over 180 Yazidi women and children captured by ISIS have been liberated since the operation to recapture Mosul began last year. As time goes on, they are coming home with increasing psychological and physical damage. Most women are in shock and sleep for days after their return. Many women are also showing “an unusual degree of indoctrination.”

Photo credit: Australia Human Rights Commission Flickr (CC-BY-2.0)

GJC Weekly News Roundup

 Wednesday, Turkey detained eleven human rights defenders near Istanbul. The activists were attending a workshop on protecting the work of human rights groups when Turkish police arrested them on the baseless suspicion of belonging to an “armed terrorist organization,” and they are still in custody. Two are leaders of Amnesty International Turkey.

Friday, the Financial Times explored Brexit’s impact on women. The British government drew attention last month because of the lack of women on their negotiating team (two of the twelve negotiators at the initial meeting were women), but concerns extend beyond that. Laws on women’s rights might change with Brexit, particularly if Britain is no longer under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. This could remove decades of progressive decisions on issues including equal pay, pregnancy discrimination, and sex discrimination laws.

Saturday, in an article about the Afghan province Ghor, The New York Times described what happens when the law provides no protection for women. Ghor’s weak rule of law and their marriage customs leave women vulnerable. There have been 118 registered cases of violence against women in the past year—with many more going unreported—and zero suspects in these 118 cases have been arrested. Extreme stories of women being abducted, shot, stoned to death and more have emerged from the province in recent years. Law officials say they have to balance justice with security when sharing borders with violent, Taliban-occupied territories.

Monday, Oregon’s legislature passed one of the most progressive pieces of reproductive rights legislation in the country. The Reproductive Health Equity Act requires health insurance to cover, at no cost to patients, a number of reproductive health services such as abortion, contraception and prenatal and postnatal care. Religious employers can opt out of covering abortion and contraception. It also reaffirms Oregon citizens’ rights to an abortion, protecting them from possible changes in federal law. The bill will now go to Governor Kate Brown, a Democrat who is supportive of reproductive rights.

Tuesday, in retaliation against the United States’ Global Gag Rule, Sweden’s development agency announced it will no longer give funding for sexual and reproductive health services to organizations that follow the Gag Rule. Sweden is also allocating new funds to organizations that agree to not follow the Gag Rule.

Wednesday, Buddhists protested the arrival of a UN human rights envoy to Myanmar. The envoy is on an information-gathering trip in the Rakhine state to investigate security forces’ human rights abuses against the Muslim Rohingya minority. The protestors said Yanghee Lee, who is leading the envoy, is too “one-sided.” Earlier this summer, Lee recommended a special UN mission to investigate the problems in Rakhine, which the Human Rights Council approved; however, Myanmar wouldn’t allow the mission members to enter the country.

Wednesday, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is re-examining the college sexual assault policies instituted under Title IX during the Obama administration. She is meeting with victims of sexual assault, men accused of assault, and higher education officials. Obama’s policies sparked a backlash from some who believed the policies and investigations went too far in ignoring the rights of the accused.

GJC Weekly News Roundup

Friday, Missouri is moving toward passing a bill that would allow landlords and employers to discriminate against women who have had abortions or use contraception. The House passed an expanded version of the bill, known as SB 5, which the Senate first passed on June 14 during a special session called by Governor Eric Greitens. The session was intended to overturn an ordinance that prevents employers and landlords from discriminating against women because of their reproductive health choices. While the Federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act prohibits discrimination against women who have had an abortion, it makes no mention of discrimination based on birth control.

Thursday, the United States rejected a United Nations resolution against gender-based violence because of a paragraph calling for access to reproductive health services, including abortion where it is legal. U.S. official Jason Mack said that while the United States agrees with the “spirit” of the resolution, it cannot endorse the paragraph on reproductive services because t the U.S. does “not recognize abortion as a method of family planning, nor do we support abortion in our reproductive health assistance.”

Monday, the Polish government passed legislation restricting access to emergency contraception. The president signed a bill that classifies the “morning-after pill” as a prescription drug, meaning that women will now have to make a doctor’s appointment to obtain it. Polish doctors are allowed to refuse treatment based on religious grounds. 

Monday, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, delivered a speech criticizing Western countries for undermining human rights, arguing that “the dangers to the entire system of international law are therefore very real.” He warned that U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s threat to abandon human rights if they hinder terrorism investigations would encourage authoritarian regimes.  He also condemned the Trump administration’s travel ban and “flirtation” with torture.

Photo credit: Yassie CC-BY-SA-3.0

U.S. Continues to Prioritize Anti-Abortion Policy Over The Wellbeing of Women

By Marie Wilken

The United States recently rejected a United Nations Human Rights Council resolution on violence against women because it contained language calling for access to abortion in countries where it is legal. This is yet another example of the Trump administration using international aid and laws to limit access to abortion around the world. Like the Global Gag Rule, this rejection ignores that in addition to infringing on reproductive rights, these actions have many negative ramifications that are unrelated to abortion.

After a resolution aimed at eliminating violence and discrimination against women, introduced by Canada, was adopted by consensus, the United States dissociated from the consensus because of a sentence about abortion.  While abortion was not a primary focus of the resolution, it stated that all women should have access to “comprehensive sexual and health-care services” including “safe abortion where such services are permitted by national law.” U.S. First Secretary to the U.N. in Geneva Jason Mack delivered a statement saying that the U.S. agrees with the “spirit” of the resolution but cannot endorse the paragraph on reproductive services because the U.S. does “not recognize abortion as a method of family planning, nor do we support abortion in our reproductive health assistance.”

This is not a singular action; its motivations and effects parallel other Trump administration policies. Congress’s new health care bill defunds Planned Parenthood—a policy that, though driven by anti-abortion sentiment, will have a much broader impact on women’s health care. This year President Trump reinstated and greatly expanded the Global Gag Rule. The administration refuses to fund international aid even loosely related to abortion, and its rejection of the UN resolution suggests it is adopting a similar approach toward international law. Because of the Gag Rule, organizations are afraid to even reference abortion out of fear of losing their U.S. funding. There is now fear that the same chilling effect to mentions of abortion and other reproductive rights will spread to international law. The Global Gag Rule, health care bill, and rejection of the UN resolution not only violate women’s reproductive rights, but all also deny women unrelated services and protections.

The United States’ resistance to international reproductive rights is dangerous. By denying women around the world safe and accessible abortion, it risks the lives of women and girls. Approximately 830 women die from preventable pregnancy- and childbirth-related causes per day. U.S. policy forces some of the world’s poorest women to choose between giving birth to a child they cannot afford to care for and seeking an unsafe abortion. The World Health Organization estimates that approximately 225 million women in developing countries want to prevent pregnancy but are not using contraception, mostly due to the limited reproductive health services available.  The administration’s policies are also dangerous because of the message they send the international community about abortion and U.S. ideals. Abortion is a reproductive right, and reproductive rights are an essential aspect of women’s rights—but Mack’s statement separated abortion from other rights and reproductive health services and demonized it. He wielded United States influence over international norms to push them backwards, away from progress toward equal protection of rights.

Because of one sentence on abortion, the United States obstructed the entire resolution. In addition to attacking women’s reproductive rights, the U.S. missed its opportunity to show commitment to improving the lives women through preventing violence and eliminating discrimination. By doing so, the Trump administration reaffirmed its willingness to sacrifice women’s rights, health care, and even lives.

International Humanitarian Law And Access to Abortions: Compilation of Citations

Sexual violence in today’s armed conflicts is systematically used against civilians to demoralize, destroy, terrorize, and even change the ethnic compositions of entire communities. For instance, the ongoing Syrian civil war has seen an estimated 50,000 rapes. Women there describe being drugged, blindfolded, and raped in groups. In Iraq, ISIS has systematically abducted girls and women, held them in captivity, and repeatedly subjected them sexual violence including rape and sexual slavery. In Darfur, Sudan, where sexual violence has been used as a tactic of war for over 12 years, a 2015 attack in Tabit included the mass rape of over 200 women and girls in the span of three days. Finally, in Nigeria, Boko Haram openly targets young girls for kidnappings, forced marriage, rape, sexual slavery and other forms of gender-based violence.

Today, thousands of girls and women raped and impregnated in armed conflict are routinely denied abortions with devastating consequences. A girl or woman who is a victim of war rape and is denied an abortion when she wants one often has three options: (1) undergoing an unsafe abortion; (2) carrying to term an unwanted pregnancy; or (3) committing suicide. The denial of abortion services to these victims is both illegal and inhumane. 

In the context of armed conflict, the rights of war victims are protected under international humanitarian law. Specifically, victims of war rape are part of a special class of people called “wounded and sick in armed conflict.” This status means they are entitled to comprehensive and non-discriminatory medical care provided solely on the basis of their condition. Failing to provide – or denying – a medical service needed only by one gender (i.e. abortion) violates these absolute rights.

Abortion as protected medical care under international humanitarian law has increasingly been recognized by states, international policy makers, and legal experts on international humanitarian law. This document complies language and citations of laws, policies, authoritative declarations of public officials, and legal treatises, that affirm abortion as protected medical care for girls and women raped in war under IHL.

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GJC Weekly News Roundup

Friday, the New York Times published an editorial about the United States' mixed messages on human rights. While U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley emphasized U.S. commitment to human rights in her address last week, the editorial board writes, “In President Donald Trump’s transactional worldview, human rights are annoying obstacles to making deals.”

Friday, Devex reported that Sweden’s state secretary for international development, Ulrika Modéer, said that Nordic countries cannot fill the gap created by the U.S. Global Gag Rule alone. She said the European Union must take more action on family planning, and non-European countries need to join alliances for reproductive rights.

Monday, Canada released an International Assistance Policy that heavily focuses on gender equality. Within five years, Canada will allocate 15% of its international aid to gender equality programs. Its Women’s Voice and Leadership Program will direct funding to international grassroots organizations that promote women’s rights and gender equality.

Monday, Politico published an investigation into the gender imbalance in U.S. politics. It found that barriers like media and voter sexism, party influence, and fundraising have lessened in importance. Now, the gap stems mostly from the lack of women who run for office. Interest has spiked since the presidential election, however. Politico suggests a few strategies for encouraging this interest: identifying female candidates earlier, pushing women elected to bodies like school boards to run for higher office, and changing the sales pitch used to recruit women by framing politics as a way to fix problems.

Tuesday, the United Nations ruled Ireland’s abortion ban to be a human rights violation. In 2010, an Irish woman traveled to the U.K. to terminate her pregnancy when she learned that the fetus had a fatal birth defect. The United Nations Human Rights Committee released a decision ruling that Ireland owes her damages for the cost of the abortion and “high level of mental anguish.” The UN made a similar ruling on Ireland’s laws last year.

Photo credit: Dmitry Dzhus Flickr CC-BY-2.0

GJC Weekly News Roundup

Sunday, Executive Director of the U.N. Population Fund Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin died. He worked to ensure access to family planning for all. “Family planning is not a privilege but a right. Yet, too many women — and men — are denied this human right,” Osotimehin said.

Tuesday, Devex reported on how the Global Gag Rule has affected conflict-affected populations. In Colombia, a non-profit called Profamilia has provided reproductive health services and education like workshops on gender-based violence to vulnerable towns since 1964. In January, it chose not to comply with the expanded Global Gag Rule, and it lost $1.2 million of USAID funding, $1.5 million for a maternal mortality program, and $300,000 for a Zika prevention program.

Tuesday, authorities in Saudi Arabia detained prominent women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul. While the exact reason for her arrest is unknown, Amnesty International believes it relates to her women’s rights activism. In 2014, she was arrested and held for 73 days for trying to drive a car from the United Arab Emirates to Saudi Arabia.

Tuesday, the Trump administration suggested the possibility of a U.S. exit from the United Nations Human Rights Council. In her first address to the UNHRC and in an op-ed in The Washington Post, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley argued that the council exhibits anti-Israel bias and ignores the human rights violations of its members.

Wednesday, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May said the country needs to be more aggressive in combatting terrorism, “and if our human rights laws get in the way of doing it, we will change the law so we can do it.” May proposed making it easier to deport foreign terrorist suspects and to “restrict the freedom and movements of terrorist suspects” against whom there is not enough evidence to prosecute in court.

Wednesday, The New Yorker explained how the Global Gag Rule affects Africa by targeting women in some of the world’s poorest countries. The United States provides more international health assistance than any other country, and in these regions, there are too few health centers to provide specific services like abortion. The Gag Rule also complicates treatment of women with H.I.V. and AIDS because providers cannot even raise the question of abortion to a woman who’s infected, which will result in more infected children and less money to treat them with.

Photo Credit: U.K. Department for International Development Flickr CC-BY-2.0

GJC Weekly News Roundup

Monday, women gathered outside of the capitol in Hartford, Connecticut as the marches and protests against the Trump administration continued. Women came promoting women’s rights and addressed lawmakers that they were unhappy with the lack of equal rights.

Tuesday, reproductive rights activists protested the new vote to defund Planned Parenthood nationwide. Many protesters and Planned Parenthood supporters site the importance of the organization, which offers not only abortions, but also mammograms, pap smears and contraceptives, all of which are essential to women’s reproductive health.

Tuesday, an interesting article was posted on the importance of essential maternity care and the need for insurance companies to provide women with post-natal medical coverage. It criticizes the new healthcare plan that Republicans are pushing for, as it allows state governments to “waive such essential coverage” which “threatens the small but significant gains made for vulnerable women in the years since Obamacare became law.”

GJC Weekly News Roundup

Thursday, here’s a good list of the main provision of the new Republican Health Care Bill. Some of the changes include allowing insurers to charge older adults more than younger adults for the same coverage and Medicaid cuts amounting to $880 billion over the next 10 years. 

Thursday, the Global Gag Rule is negatively affecting women in India where abortion is considered a woman’s right. The Gag Rule could negatively impact India’s sovereignty and put women in danger if access to healthcare is limited. People are arguing that abortion cannot be separated from women’s healthcare, as it should come together as one package in order to protect women.

Thursday, Hillary Clinton speaks out against the “troubling ideas” regarding women and healthcare that have been spreading because of the current administration and President Trump. In her speech, she mentioned that women’s issues should not be considered minor and criticized the efforts to repeal ACA.

GJC Weekly News Roundup

Monday, President Trump is vowing to drastically cut finding for aid programs in developing countries and merge the State Department with USAID. The money slashed from aid programs will be transferred to national security programs. The cut in funding will also affect programs and offices that promote women’s rights and foreign assistance.

Tuesday, the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women has approved Saudi Arabia as a new member of the Commission for the 2018-2022 term. While it received the lowest number of votes when considering a new member, it is still enough to pass the majority threshold. This led to an outrage among human rights activists who say that Saudi Arabian laws repress women. Some, however, see it as an opportunity for Saudi Arabia to reform its laws and for people working to promote women’s rights to find support from leading international organizations.

Wednesday, the House Freedom Caucus gave its approval to a more conservative version of ACA, giving the Republicans another opportunity to repeal President Obama’s Affordable Healthcare Act. One of the latest proposals allows “states to obtain waivers from federal mandates that insurers cover certain “essential health benefits,” like emergency services, maternity care, and mental health and substance abuse services, which many Republicans argue have driven up premiums.” As for reproductive healthcare, the article does not mention any new developments, which is not to say that the new healthcare plan will have the same benefits as Obamacare.

Wednesday, the US is expected to announce revised global gag rule implementation guidelines, which can potentially lead to slashing of approximately $8 billion in U.S. international health assistance. As many global healthcare organizations, including those that offer abortions, rely on US funding, the new guidelines will negatively affect the ability to provide crucial healthcare to women in need. However, there is not guarantee that all NGOs will comply with the new guidelines.

GJC Weekly News Roundup

Tuesday, researchers asked what helps to establish a democratic society? According to a study published by the European Journal of Political Research, it is increased women’s rights that helps a country become more democratic. When women have access to political and social rights and representation, it aids democratic development and helps a country transition from an authoritarian regime.

Wednesday, despite the recent elections in the Netherlands, the “She Decides” fund for family planning is still receiving support from the new leadership and expects support to continue on a national level and international level. Recently, Iceland and Slovenia have joined the campaign and have promised to contribute a total of $190,000. Still, there is a long way to go before the fund reaches its $600 million annual goal to support organizations that will no longer receive financial support from the U.S. due to the expanded Global Gag rule.

Thursday, following the U.S. airstrike against a Syrian air force base on April 7, President Trump was met with both support and criticism. The question that concerns the critics is whether the airstrike is legal by international law standards and whether it constitutes an act of aggression. There are only two justifications for the use of force under international law and Trump’s strike does not meet either criterion.

Thursday, President Trump signed legislation that will cut off federal funding to Planned Parenthood and other organizations that provide abortion services. This measure nullifies a rule that was put in place by President Obama that barred states and local governments from cutting funding for family planning services. While President Trump’s decision has been met with approval from conservatives, there is widespread opposition. Human rights and women’s rights activists worry of the repercussions of the lack of funding for women’s healthcare.

Friday, following the inauguration of President Trump, women across the nation have united to oppose and fight back against new rules and regulations imposed by the Trump administration. Female activists are attempting to maintain the progress that has been made with the Obama administration and encourage more women to join the mobilization against the new President through protest and democratic ideals.