"That's Illegal" Episode 9: Ireland's Abortion Laws

 

In this episode, we are joined by Dr. Claire Pierson, a lecturer in Gender and Comparative Politics at the University of Liverpool, to discuss Ireland’s groundbreaking eighth amendment referendum to legalize abortion and lessons for the international community.

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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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Women’s Rights and Right Wing Politics

In recent years, right-wing populism has been spreading across Europe and the United States. The US, France, Germany, Greece and the Netherlands have seen a surge in public support for right-wing parties. Ranging from fascist groups like Golden Dawn in Greece to parties attempting to soften their image to gain more followers like the Front National in France, rightist ideologies have squeezed their way into mainstream politics. What does this represent for women’s rights and reproductive rights? A challenge.

Typically, right-wing parties are politically conservative, support traditional women’s roles and family structures. Most do not speak out for gay rights or women’s rights and do not favor a progressive feminist agenda, which includes equal pay and supporting family planning organizations. Furthermore, right-wing leaders have also spoken out against access to abortion and reproductive rights. Sound familiar?

When it comes to human rights and women’s rights, the US, Canada and many European countries are leading the conversation and promoting activism. With the Trump Administration and prominent right-wing groups gaining more power and influence in Europe, this conversation may become severely limited. Many family planning organizations and health clinics rely on federal funding to remain open and provide health services. Organizations that also provide women with abortions are often targeted and threatened with the withdrawal of funding. Such actions and restrictions do not result in a decreased number of abortions, but result in harming women who need abortions and can only get them outside of a doctor’s office, often in a non-sterile environment with limited access to proper medical tools.

Two of the leading right-wing parties in Europe, both of which are led by women, are the Front National and Alternative for Germany. Both leaders, Marine Le Pen and Frauke Petry, during their campaigns and interviews have spoken out against access to abortion and gay rights. They have also promoted the return to traditional family values, where a nuclear family is the ideal. The Front National in France does not support abortion or progressive women’s rights. Alternative for Germany promotes similar ideas, as well as a strong anti-immigrant sentiment.  Similar ideas have found support in President Trump’s administration and across the United States. What is it exactly that these political party and leaders support? While Trump’s administration and President Trump himself claim to be great supporters of women and say they are supporters of paid maternity leave and maternity benefits, people argue that his claims are not reflected in the laws he passes and the bills he signs. Furthermore, Trump introduced the expanded Global Gag Rule that will cut funding to foreign family planning organizations that rely on US money. This includes many organizations in developing countries, where such organizations are the sole source of birth control and safe abortions.

Although social activism is bright and promising, with many joining women’s rights and human rights movements across the globe, it is important to make sure that these political shifts and the resulting sentiments do not become normalized in our societies. Whether it is through more organized protest, the work of human and women’s rights organizations or liberals running for office, unity and perseverance are more important than ever. 

Donald Trump picture courtesy of Gage Skidmore

Marine Le Pen picture courtesy of Antoine Bayet

Frauke Petry picture courtesy of Harald Bischoff

GJC in Brussels

GJC meets in Brussels this week with EU decision-makers to raise awareness of the new anti-abortion restrictions likely to be put in place by a Trump-Pence Administration, and what this means for the important strides the EU has taken to protect rape victim’s right to abortion services in armed conflict.

Prosecuting Genocide: European Union Obligations in the Age of Daesh

Daesh, also known as ISIS/ISIL, is committing genocide against religious and ethnic minorities, targeting women and girls in particular. The time is now for the EU to fulfil its international legal obligations to prevent and prosecute genocide. This means the EU must recognize this ongoing genocide, take steps to prevent and suppress it, and call for and facilitate its prosecution.

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EU Finalizes Divorce From US Abortion Ban

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE -  February 24, 2016

[NEW YORK, NY]– Today, the EU adopted its 2016 budget containing the first ever anti-Helms Amendment. The US Helms amendment currently imposes an abortion ban on all US foreign aid, including support for girls and women raped in armed conflict.

European Parliament’s Resolution Increases Pressure on U.S.

On June 9, the European Parliament adopted a resolution that would grant abortion access to women and girls who are victim of war rape. This resolution has come at a key time, as recently one-third of the 293 girls who were rescued from Boko Haram in Nigeria were found to be pregnant.

However, due to the U.S.’s Helms Amendment, no U.S. aid can be given to organizations that provide abortion services. These girls are often forced to give birth in dangerous conditions and care for the child of their rapist. The European Parliament is the most recent body to come out against the U.S.’s brutal and outdated abortion ban.

This resolution, detailed in the equalities report “The EU Strategy for Equality between Women and Men Post 2015,” is the fifth resolution on abortion and war rape that has been adopted in the last three years. At the U.S.’s UPR in May, five countries challenged the U.S.’s abortion ban and demanded justification for its continued implementation.

This resolution shows mounting pressure on the U.S. and President Obama to overturn the Helms Amendment. As stated by GJC President Janet Benshoof, “Obama must choose now if his legacy will include turning a blind eye to the plight of women and girls raped in war.”

Read GJC’s Press Release here.

GJC Meets with European Women's Lobby in Brussels

EWL met with Global Justice Center in Brussels to discuss access to full medical care for female war rape victims.

The European Women’s Lobby (EWL) is the largest umbrella organisation of women’s associations in the European Union (EU), working to promote women’s rights and equality between women and men.

Click here to read their article about the meeting. 

The Cruelest Weapon

Akila Radhakrishnan and Kristina Kallas publish an article in Ms. Magazine, titled "The Cruelest Weapon" on how the US denies abortions to women raped in war.

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Open Letter to Commissioner Georgieva

GJC writes open letter to Commissioner Georgieva of the European Commission in response to her September 8, 2014 letter explaining the European Union's position on abortion and the Geneva Conventions.

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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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Letter to Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva: Re: The Commission’s Policy on Abortions for Women and Girls Impregnated by Rape in Armed Conflict

GJC writes a letter to Kristalina Georgieva, European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, to urge the European Commission to change its humanitarian aid policy in order to uphold the rights of women and girls raped and impregnated in armed conflict under the Geneva Conventions. 

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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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European Parliament Pushes to Separate Aid to War Rape Victims from US Restrictions

European Parliament adopts second resolution urging humanitarian aid to be independent from US restrictions and ensure sexual violence survivors’ access to safe abortion.

The European Parliament adopted a resolution on June 13, 2013, on the post-2015 UN Millennium Development Goals in which it specifically urged that the provision of EU humanitarian aid that contributes to the MDGs should be effectively excluded from the restrictions on humanitarian aid imposed by the USA and other donors on abortion. The eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – which range from halving extreme poverty rates to promoting gender equality and promoting women’s empowerment, are agreed to by all countries and leading development institutions. However the implementation of these goals, in particular the reduction of maternal mortality is being jeopardized by the US who, despite unsafe abortion being a lead cause for maternal mortality, does not allow the use of humanitarian aid for abortion services in conflict zones.

The EP Resolution’s refers to the US “no-abortion” prohibition on humanitarian aid (section 31) and states:

31. Urges that the provision of EU humanitarian aid that contributes to the attainment of the MDGs and should effectively be excluded from the restrictions on humanitarian aid imposed by the USA or other donors, in particular by ensuring access to abortion for women and girls who are victims of rape in armed conflicts.

The US “no abortion” prohibition compromises all EU country level and European Commission funding, both for the medical treatment of victims of armed conflict and for ensuring enforcement of humanitarian law. EU countries donate to help victims of armed conflict through various ways, including through the UN, to groups like UNFPA or, to directly to groups working on the ground in conflict area. All these funds are commingled with US funds on the ground and thus compromised.

Click here to view the full resolution. 

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