Proposed "Domestic Gag Rule" Violates Americans’ Right to Free Speech

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – July 31, 2018

[NEW YORK, NY] – Today marks the deadline for public commentary on the changes to the Title X Family Planning Program proposed by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). If adopted, this domestic “gag rule” would ban health centers that receive Title X funding from providing their patients with information, referrals, access or support regarding abortion services. This rule is yet another attack by the Trump Administration on low-income and minority communities.

Read Akila Radhakrishnan's Speech at the Feminist Majority Foundation's 2018 National Young Feminist Leadership Conference

2018 National Young Feminist Leadership Conference
March 17, 2018 Washington, DC
Text of Preparted Remarks

"I think we all remember the image of Donald Trump, on his third day in office, surrounded by a group of white men, with Mike Pence looking anxiously over his shoulder, signing an executive order stripping women and girls around the world of their access to safe abortion services. And he didn’t just do it like Presidents before him—like Regan and George W. Bush—he did it bigly. 

Eliminate the Chilling Effect

A Hindrance on Abortions to Rape Victims

by Eva Marie Wüst Vestergaard

US abortion restrictions constrain abortion speech and services around the world. Under a Trump administration, it is likely these restrictions will be expanded, causing confusion for providers and harming women raped in war.

For the past six years, the Global Justice Center has worked to lift the US abortion ban on foreign aid. The Helms Amendment stipulates that US funding cannot be used for any kind of abortion speech and services. However, this does not constrain foreign organizations from using other funding for abortion activities as long as their funding is segregated. This latitude is not well known and in the aftermath of the US election, it is now also imperilled.

The Mexico City Policy or the Global Gag Rule (GGR), imposed by Reagan, requires that foreign organizations receiving US funds for family planning activities cannot perform nor actively promote abortion as a method of family planning. Foreign organizations under GGR are allowed to spend other funding for abortion speech and services in the cases of rape, incest, or if the “mother’s life would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term”, as these are not methods of family planning.

The GGR has continuously been rescinded under democratic presidencies and reinstated under republican presidencies. It was rescinded by President Obama eight years ago and will most likely be reinstated by Trump. When the GGR is reinstated it produces a “chilling effect” on providers of abortion services around the world.

The chilling effect refers to the fact that US abortion restrictions are so complicated and incomprehensible that providers avoid any activity on abortion as a preventive measure to avoid the risk of losing funding. It is, for example, a common misconception that the Helms amendment is a total ban on abortion speech and services, whilst the ban only covers US funding, not alternative segregated funding.

Should a reinstatement of the GGR become a reality, foreign organizations may be likely to disregard abortion services in spite of having autonomy to provide them to rape victims and other cases that are not defined as family planning. Therefore, it is vital to be fully informed of what these restrictions entail, be wary of misconceptions, and eliminate the chilling effect that hinders raped women’s right to abortion around the world.

Lift the Ban: The Impact of US Abortion Restrictions on Kidnapped Nigerian Schoolgirls

When almost 300 Nigerian schoolgirls were recently kidnapped by local terrorist organization Boko Haram, the United States sent military and foreign aid to help rescue the victims and combat the threat posed by the militants. However, while the US support includes provisions for the victims’ protection and care, the abortion ban attached to US foreign aid bars the option of safe termination of pregnancies resulting from rape – in spite of the armed group’s announced intent to marry some of the schoolgirls and sell others into sex slavery.

In Nigeria, a major state-recipient of US foreign aid, girls and women are routinely raped as a tactic of war. This phenomenon is not unique to domestic terrorist organizations like Boko Haram, but is also practiced by the country’s military and police forces. When these rape victims, many of whom are young girls, become pregnant, the US abortion ban limits the services available to them and forces them to bear the children of their rapists. US policy thus increases the morbidity and mortality of girls and women who are impregnated by war rape.

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George Clooney Condemns Rape of Darfur

On February 25th, 2015, George Clooney co-authored a New York Times Oped on the rape of women in Darfur. Internationally, the violence in Sudan, including mass rape, has been recognized as genocide since 2004, yet the attention to the area has died down since then, allowing the government to continue its abuses. The media is heavily restricted, humanitarian aid workers equally so and very little is known about the quality of life in Darfur. The peacekeeping mission to Darfur, a joint venture of the African Union and the United Nations, has been severely undermined by the government’s efforts, as the United Nations office has been shut down and investigations stymied. Since evidence cannot be gathered, the peacekeeping forces are required to rely on information provided by the government and have been encouraged to withdraw from areas that remain in need of assistance.

However, the facade can be undermined. Recent efforts have revealed the travesties that are the government’s attempts at peace and security. After documenting over 100 witness testimonies, it can be concluded that last October, the Sudanese Army raped hundreds of women and that investigations of those rapes were subsequently obstructed. The military had full control of Tabit when the mass rape took place, so the attack was not ultimately used as a weapon of conflict, but rather an atrocious and despicable intimidation tactic. It is stated in Clooney’s article, “The sexual violence has no military objective; rather, it is a tactic of social control, ethnic domination and demographic change. Acting with impunity, government forces victimize the entire community. Racial subordination is also an underlying message, as non-­Arab groups are singled out for abuse.”

Clooney calls for renewed global attention to the crisis in Darfur as well as effective sanctions. This renewed attention on these women and children who were raped should also focus on a piece of U.S. legislation that will harmfully impact their lives. The Helms Amendment is a forty two year old piece of legislation that bans all U.S. foreign aid from going to organizations that perform abortions. This includes for women and children who are raped in times of crisis. Women who have been raped are much more likely to die in childbirth, and further, a large portion of the survivors are children, who are still more likely to die from pregnancy The United States restriction on foreign aid for abortion services, curtails the effectiveness of the Red Cross and other such organizations that rely US funding. GJC’s August 12th Campaign calls upon Obama to sign an executive order lifting the abortion restrictions on humanitarian aid and as we can see in Darfur, it is more urgent than ever that this outdated legislation is removed and that these women and children receive the medical care they need.

Letter to President Obama, "Re: Ending the Deadly Denial of Abortion Services to Girls and Women Raped in War"

On the 65th Anniversary of the Geneva Conventions, GJC writes to President Obama asking him to issue an Executive Order which restores, at a minimum, the rape, incest and life endangerment exceptions to the Helms Amendment and affirms the rights of girls and women raped in war to all necessary medical care under the Geneva Conventions, including safe abortion.

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A Call for European Union Member States to Ensure Access to Safe Abortion Services for Female Rape Survivors in Armed Conflict

This Call to Action urges European Union Member States (Member States) to change the European Union’s (EU) humanitarian aid policies. As they stand now, the EU’s policies prevent the provision of comprehensive and non-discriminatory medical care to girls and women impregnated by rape in armed conflict by routinely denying access to safe abortion services. These policies increase the harm suffered by women and girls impregnated by war rape and violate their rights under common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

The EU should establish a strong policy affirming the Geneva Conventions’ requirement that war victims be provided all care necessary as required by their condition, including life-saving abortion services for victims of war rape.

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How the US is Blocking Access to Safe Abortion Services for Women and Girls Impregnated by Rape in Syria

Throughout the Syrian conflict, Syrian government forces and government-controlled militia (Shabiha) have reigned terror over the civilian population. Alma, a victim of this violence, describes being held in a cell where she would kick and scream alongside 20 other women while they were drugged, blindfolded, and gang-raped.

In the worst embodiment of this campaign, rape is used as a weapon of war against Syrian women and girls. Alma continues, “I’ve been through everything! I’ve been battered, flogged with steel cables, had cigarettes in the neck, razor blades all over my body, electricity to my vagina. I’ve been raped while blindfolded everyday by several men who stank of alcohol and obeyed their superior’s orders, who was always there. They shouted: ‘You wanted freedom? Well here it is!’” A different victim illustrates the scene at a Syrian detention center in which a doctor visited each woman’s cell to note the dates of her period and to hand out birth control pills: “[w]e lived in filth, in blood, in [feces], with no water and barely any food. But we had such an obsessive fear of becoming pregnant that we took these pills scrupulously.” Still other victims of these crimes against humanity described situations in which their “bodies have become battlefields and torture chambers.”

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The United Kingdom’s Duty under International Humanitarian Law to Ensure Non-Discriminatory Medical Care to Women and Girls Raped in Armed Conflict, including Access to Safe Abortion Services

Excerpts of UK, EU and International Laws, Policies & Practices Relevant to this Duty

Updated as of October 8, 2013

The duty of the United Kingdom ("UK") to respect international law, and in particular international humanitarian law, is firmly rooted in its body of domestic law which implements the Geneva Conventions and its Additional Protocols, and is further supplemented by the laws, regulations, and guidelines of the European Union.
For women raped in armed conflict, abortion is a legal right under international humanitarian law ("IHL"). Girls and women raped in armed conflict are "protected persons" under the Geneva Conventions and are entitled, as the ―wounded and sick, to "receive to the fullest extent practicable and with the least possible delay, the medical care and attention required by their condition." This care must also be non-discriminatory. To deny a medical service to pregnant women (abortion), while offering everything needed for victims who are male or who aren't pregnant, is a violation of this requirement of non-discrimination. Therefore, IHL imposes an absolute and affirmative duty to provide the option of abortion to rape victims in humanitarian aid settings; failing to do so violates the Geneva Conventions, its Additional Protocols, and customary international law.

These protections are further supported by international human rights law. The Committee against Torture and the Human Rights Committee have both declared the denial of abortion to be torture or cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment in certain situations. Furthermore, under these treaties, which apply concurrently with humanitarian law during armed conflict, State Parties are required to provide the highest standard of rehabilitative care for torture victims, which includes the provision of complete medical services for injuries resulting from torture. In the case of impregnated female rape victims, such care must include the option of abortion.

This compendium contains excerpts from British legislation, policy, and practice which underscore the UK's commitments to ensure that its humanitarian aid to girls and women raped in armed conflict affords them their full and inalienable rights to medical care under IHL. This requires: (1) access to a complete range of health and life-saving treatments including abortion, and (2) compliance with the tenet of non-discriminatory humanitarian aid for girls and women raped in armed conflict.

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Compendium: The Obligation of the United Kingdom to Protect the Inalienable Rights of Girls and Women Raped in Armed Conflict to Non-Discriminatory Medical Care Including Access to Abortion: Excerpts of Relevant UK Laws, Policies, & Practices

The duty of the United Kingdom (UK) to respect international law, and in particular international humanitarian law, is firmly rooted in its body of domestic law which implements the Geneva Conventions and its Additional Protocols, and is further supplemented by the laws, regulations, and guidelines of the European Union.

For women raped in armed conflict, abortion is a legal right under international humanitarian law (IHL). Girls and women raped in armed conflict are “protected persons” under the Geneva Conventions and are entitled, as the “wounded and sick,” to “receive to the fullest extent practicable and with the least possible delay, the medical care and attention required by their condition.” This care must also be non-discriminatory. To deny a medical service to pregnant women (abortion), while offering everything needed for victims who are male or who aren’t pregnant, is a violation of this requirement of non-discrimination. Therefore, IHL imposes an absolute and affirmative duty to provide the option of abortion to rape victims in humanitarian aid settings; failing to do so violates the Geneva Conventions, its Additional Protocols, and customary international law.

These protections are further supported by international human rights law. The Committee against Torture and the Human Rights Committee have both declared the denial of abortion to be torture or cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment in certain situations. Furthermore, under these treaties, which apply concurrently with humanitarian law during armed conflict, State Parties are required to provide the highest standard of rehabilitative care for torture victims, which includes the provision of complete medical services for injuries resulting from torture. In the case of impregnated female rape victims, such care must include the option of abortion.

This compendium contains excerpts from British legislation, policy, and practice which underscore the UK’s commitments to ensure that its humanitarian aid to girls and women raped in armed conflict affords them their full and inalienable rights to medical care under IHL. This requires: (1) access to a complete range of health and life-saving treatments including abortion, and (2) compliance with the tenet of non-discriminatory humanitarian aid for girls and women raped in armed conflict.

The UK is a global leader in providing humanitarian aid and assistance to the victims of armed conflict. The UK should continue to endeavour to comply fully and faithfully with the rights and protections these victims are accorded under IHL.

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