Abortion Access in Conflict

This program aims to ensure that victims of rape in armed conflict are provided access to abortion as a matter of right to comprehensive and non-discriminatory medical care under international humanitarian law.


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. 

The Winding History of the Global Gag Rule

By Julia d'Amours

On September 7th, Senate lawmakers presented “a twofold rebuke” to the Trump Administration’s abortion policy. The proposed legislation would reinstate funding to the United Nations Population Fund and overturn the Global Gag Rule, a hallmark Republican presidential policy that bans US support for international organizations that offer or promote abortion services.

The first segment of the bill regards support for the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), which has a winding and tumultuous relationship with the United States. The UNFPA aimsto promote family planning, maternal health resources, and improved childcare in developing countries. It was founded at the urging of President Nixon in 1969, with the US being one of its core leaders. By 1984, however, President Reagan became one of the UNFPA’s greatest adversaries, accusing it of supporting the Chinese “one-child” policy.  He pulled funding from UNFPA through the Kemp-Kasten anticoercion law, which revoked US support from any organization that “supports or participates in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization”. Since then, funding for the UNFPA has waxed and waned with the party of presidential leadership, with Democrats offering support for the organization and Republicans being quick to rescind it.

The second facet of the proposal is an amendment presented by Jeanne Shaheen (D- New Hampshire) to undo the “Mexico City Policy”. The Mexico City Policy, also known as the Global Gag Rule, bars federal aid to foreign organizations that provide or promote abortion. Under Trump, however, the policy has been expanded to all organizations that receive global health funding, such as those offering maternal health, anti-Zika, and preventative HIV/AIDs programs.The proposed legislation would undo Trump’s reforms, limit future efforts to reinstate the Mexico City policy, and restore US funding to UNFPA. The Amendment narrowly passed in a 16-15 vote with Republican Senators Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Ark) casting the final votes in favor.

The proposal has been praised across party divides. Shaheen applauded the bipartisan support for the new policy, claiming it would “preserve and restore funding levels for international organizations that help to prevent over 50 million unintended pregnancies around the world, and reduce the number of maternal deaths we see from those accessing unsafe abortions when the lack of family planning leaves them without options.” Family planning proponents hailed the move for “sending the message that the lives of girls, women, and families who rely on reproductive healthcare matter here and abroad,” said Brian Dixon, Senior Vice President of the Population Connection Action Fund.

Despite the acclaim, the future of the amendment remains uncertain. Unlike previous efforts to reinstate UNFPA funding and repeal the Global Gag Rule, the amendment has to pass through a Republican Senate, House, and Executive branch. Social conservatives in the House have controlled the US reproductive health agenda since 2011. Typically, the Senate has rebuked their more radical proposals, but now that social conservatives have more control there, the fate of the bill is even more uncertainRemarked Dixon, “[the bill] has to be passed by the full Senate… It’s hard to know what they’re going to do… At some point, these two bills are going to get negotiated into something that both houses will pass.” Senator Lindsay Graham (R- S.C.) commented that the GOP-dominated house would insist on keeping Trump’s policy in place. “This is the same debate we have every year, probably with the same outcome,” he claimed.

Another indication of the amendment’s uncertain future is that the House spending plan includes no financial provisions for it, hinting that the proposal is unlikely to pass or at least will be watered-down before becoming law. Historically, Capitol Hill has opted to retain a traditional budget that preserves the status quo, and the foreign aid required to enact an amendment restoring funding for the UNFPA and rescinding the Gag Rule could amount to as much as $8.8 billion.

This bureaucratic push-and-pull between Republicans and Democrats on the Global Gag Rule may appear strictly political, but it has a very real effect on people’s lives and health throughout the developing world. For example, the Lesotho Planned Parenthood Association received 426,000 condoms from USAID over two years during the Clinton Administration. Once the Gage Rule went back into effect upon the election of Geroge W. Bush, the shipments ceased because the association was the only accessible conduit for condoms in the entire country, in which one in four women was HIV/AIDS positive.

Nor do Republicans’ intentions to curb abortions through rescinded funding seem productive. The claim that cutting family planning funding will make “abortion more rare” has never been supported with data. Studies by Stanford University and a survey of abortion rates in Ghana have shown the contrary to be true. Moreover, cuts to family planning services means abortions are more likely to be performed unsafely, a leading cause of maternal death. 

The global trend towards liberalizing family planning services throughout the world indicates the common understanding that access to family planning services and abortion is a right and essential dimension to healthcare. Limiting maternal health and family planning resources does not reduce rates of abortions, but raises the death tolls for women and their children, meaning Republicans’ “pro-life” policy is actually the contrary. 

 

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.  

Read Annotations

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.

Download PDF

President Trump Expands Gag Rule to $8.8 Billion in Aid

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE — May 15, 2017

[NEW YORK, NY] -  Today, Donald Trump is announcing a new policy entitled “Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance." This policy will massively expand the Global Gag Rule by drastically increasing the amount of global health assistance funds and government programs that will be covered, affecting some $8.8 billion dollars. In the past the Global Gag Rule has been limited to overseas family planning assistance only. This new policy is said to cover a broad range of funds for global health, including maternal and child health, HIV/AIDS, malaria and family planning.

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

Global Justice Center at the Women's Strike