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.


United Kingdom Pledges to Ensure Abortion Access for Women Raped in War

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - January 10, 2013 

[NEW YORK, NY] - The United Kingdom (UK) announced a historic change in their policy on abortions for women raped in armed conflict, a move that should have enormous global impact on health care given women in war zones. UK government spokesperson, Baroness Northover, speaking in the House of Lords on January 9, 2013, acknowledged that girls and women raped in armed conflict have absolute legal rights to comprehensive medical care, including abortions when medically necessary, under common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

Domestic Criminal Laws That Conflict with International Law: Burma's Abortion and Rape Laws - A Case Study

International law provides a model to improve often outdated domestic laws.

Burma is party to many treaties, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Genocide Convention and the Geneva Conventions. International law requires states to comply with their treaty obligations in “good faith” regardless of whether domestic laws conflict with the treaty. These obligations often include requirements that states modify their domestic laws to ensure compliance with international human rights and humanitarian standards and obligations. For example, the Genocide and Geneva Conventions, ratified by Burma, both require as a part of their fundamental mandates that states pass domestic laws to comply with their treaty obligations. Burma currently has no domestic laws implementing any of its human rights treaty obligations, with the possible exception of its laws against human trafficking.

This document examines Burma’s domestic criminal laws addressing abortion and rape and compares them with the international law standards binding on Burma. These case studies are examples of how international law can be used to reform of Burma’s domestic law to comport with international human rights and humanitarian standards.

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Global Day of Action: Help GJC fight for safe abortion access for girls & women raped in war

For over two decades, women’s rights organizations in Latin America have mobilized around September 28th, which is also the day slavery was abolished in Brazil. Today, the Global Justice Center joins the Women’s Global Network for Reproduction Rights, who have declared September 28th Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion. As part of our August 12thCampaign, GJC fights for full medical rights for girls and women raped in war, including access to safe abortions. We urge President Obama to lift the blanket abortion on US humanitarian aid that denies a girl or woman raped in war the option of an abortion, even in life/threatening situations.

War rape victims are forced to carry the child of their rapists in conflict areas such as Burma, the Democratic Republic of Congo or the Sudan, where systematic rape is often used as a weapon of war. It is even used to accomplish military goals such as genocide and ethnic cleansing. Apart from being inhumane, the American ban also violates the Geneva Conventions, which guarantee non-discriminatory medical care to the “wounded and sick”. The situation is presented in a recent article by GJC Senior Counsel Akila Radhakrishnan, published in The Atlantic.

Sign the petition on Global Action Day, or donate to the GJC and help us in the fight to lift the ban, on behalf of girls and women raped in war.

Todd Akin Redux! – Rep. Rick Berg Supports Prison for Rape Victims Choosing Abortion

Senatorial Candidate Rep. Rick Berg. Credit: David Samson, The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead.

Hot on the heels of Rep. Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” firestorm, yet another senatorial candidate has taken an extreme and inhumane stance on a rape victim’s right to choose. In 2007, Rep. Berg (R-ND) voted in favor of a bill that would criminalize abortion, even in cases of rape. The North Dakota penal code knows four categories of felony, ranging from AA to C with AA carrying the severest punishment of a life sentence. It is telling that the bill Berg voted for lists abortion as Class AA “crime”. Horrifically enough, sexual crime classifies as category B offense. In essence, the bill results is a penal system that punishes the victim and not the perpetrator.

The bill was never signed into law, and even if it were, the Supreme Court would have struck it down as unconstitutional. Yet, while Republicans and Democrats have both distanced themselves from these views calling them extreme in domestic policy, punishing war rape victims is mainstream in American foreign policy.

Last year the Global Justice Center launched our “August 12th” campaign, and we continue leading the charge to urge President Obama to issue an executive order lifting the abortion ban on US humanitarian aid, a policy that “twice tortures” war rape victims by denying them their full medical rights, including access to safe abortion services. Consistent with Rep. Berg’s views, USAID’s policy bars recipients of American aid from providing critical services and information about safe abortion options to girls and women in conflict zones impregnated through rape—even in life-threatening cases. These recipients include NGOs and other humanitarian agencies working on the ground in conflict areas such as Burma, Congo or the Sudan, where rape is systematically used as a weapon of war. Current US policy hinders these organizations in helping rape victims. The Atlantic recently published a GJC article about this critical issue. The 1973 Helms Amendment, which is cited as the legal background for USAID’s policy, only prohibits the funding of abortion as a means of family planning—it should not be interpreted as applying to cases of rape or where a woman’s life is in danger. In fact, the current interpretation undisputedly violates international humanitarian law and the Geneva Conventions. It is time to change this.

In wake of the Akin scandal, President Obama emphasized a women’s right to make her own health choices. It is now time for the President to take action and issue an executive order lifting the ban. Restore full medical rights to these girls and women who have suffered the horrors of rape and war.

DNC: Rhetoric vs. Action

From the Wall Street Journal to CNN, everybody feels Democrats at the DNC have been relentless about women’s right to make their own choices. According to Michelle Obama, the president believes women “are more than capable of making our own choices about our bodies”. In the words of Nancy Pelosi, a vote for President Obama is “a vote for women’s rights”. Deval Patrick would keep the government out of a woman’s decision whether to keep an unwanted pregnancy. Obama himself says Washingtion politicians “should not control women’s health care choices”.

Why then does America’s government, through the the policies of USAID, deny the right to an abortion for girls and women systematically raped in conflict areas like the Congo, Burma and the Sudan? Join the GJC’s August 12 campaign and urge president Obama to lift the abortion ban.

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett Supports False Claim of Nearly Nonexistent Pregnancy Rates Resulting From Rape

Once again, we are left speechless by the extreme rhetoric used to describe rape victims. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) added vitriolic fuel to the controversy sparked by Rep. Todd Akin’s comments regarding pregnancy rates resulting from “legitimate rape.” In addition to the offensive attempt to distinguish acts of rape – rape is rape; their claim of nearly nonexistent pregnancy rates resulting from rape is scientifically entirely false.

One would imagine that since Akin’s comments gained international scorn, politicians would be more prudent and rational when discussing the topic of abortion. The lesson to be learned clearly went amiss for Rep. Bartlett who, in a similar comment to Akins’ said, “There are very few pregnancies as a result of rape, fortunately, and incest — compared to the usual abortion, what is the percentage of abortions for rape? It is tiny. It is a tiny, tiny percentage.” The remark, was made at a town hall meeting when pressed to reiterate his stance on abortion. And while he recently modified his stance to include exceptions of life threatening situations, rape, and incest, his comment reflects an ignorance about the horrors of rape and its devastating consequences.

Yet despite immediate condemnation, the fact is US foreign policy does not stray far from Bartlett and Akin’s beliefs. The US currently places a blanket ban on abortion aid, denying abortion options to girls and women raped in war. According to the 1973 Helms Amendment, “no foreign assistance funds may be used to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning.” USAID wrongly interprets this statement to include circumstances of rape. This inhumane policy does not even allow for abortion in the case of life-threatening circumstances. For women and girls in nations such as Burma, Sudan, and Congo where systematic rape is used widely as a weapon of war, this ban on abortion “twice tortures” them. Furthermore, this policy is in direct conflict with international law and the Geneva Conventions, which guarantee indiscriminate medical care for victims of rape. As America continues its national discussion of abortion laws, it is critical that we do not forget those suffering abroad from the horrors of rape and war. President Obama must seize this moment to act. Join the Global Justice Center in urging him to issue an executive order lifting the ban. It is a necessary step to help victims of rape in conflict areas and to show solidarity with rape victims everywhere.

As Aung San Suu Kyi Visits US, International Law Violations in Burma Constitution are Highlighted

Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s is in Washington DC today to received the Congressional Gold Medal. She will also be meeting with President Barack Obama. This is a proud moment for the Burmese community and for the Global Justice Center, which has worked tirelessly on democracy issues in Burma.

However, we also recognize that Burma’s transition to democracy is far from complete. A major obstacle continues to be the country’s constitution, which entrenches military influence over Burma’s civilian government. Daw Suu Kyi said herself that amending the constitution must be a top priority, and we agree with her. The Global Justice Center calls for the international community to challenge the constitution as a violation of fundamental international law—including the UN Charter.

Burma has seen substantial change these past few years; a civilian government was formed, political prisoners were released (Suu Kyi herself being one example), and, this April, opposition parties were allowed to take part in the by-elections, carrying 43 out of 44 open parliamentary seats (but continuing to exert little influence overall). However, Burma has yet to fully commit to democracy. The Burmese civilian government still owes its parliamentary majority to the fraudulent elections of 2010, and the current constitution hinders further democratization and gives complete autonomy to the military. This makes it nearly impossible to prosecute Burma’s military rulers, who are guilty of egregious crimes—including the use of systematic rape of ethnic women as a weapon of war, torture, forced relocation and forced labor. All are rampant violations of fundamental international law, including the Geneva Conventions and the UN Charter. The impunity accorded to the military under the current constitution leaves civilian victims, particularly those in the conflict areas of the Burmese border, virtually without legal protection. Activities of the Myanmar military are also in breach of a set of agreements that govern nuclear development.

The Burmese government and the international community must ensure that Burma is meeting international law requirements. Yet, because the constitution gives the military a “legal vacuum” the government would be legally unable to fulfill these obligations. Thus Burma’s new constitution stands in breach of core international commitments.

The Global Justice Center urges the international community to stand with the people of Burma and challenge the legality of the constitution.

(For an in-depth analysis of the constitution and restraint it puts on the civilian government, read GJC president Janet Benshoof’s report, co-written with the Burma Lawyers Council or see the Global Justice Center Project Page on Burma.)

Open Letter to European Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva

An open letter written by the Global Justice Center to European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid, Kristalina Georgieva urging that EU humanitarian aid for women raped in armed conflict respect their rights to non-discriminatory medical care under international humanitarian law.

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Think Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin’s remarks on “legitimate rape” went too far?

So do we. In fact, so does the Obama administration and the Romney campaign, both of whom were quick to condemn Rep. Akin’s ill-advised remarks that women who are “legitimately” raped rarely get pregnant.

Akin’s statements are particularly shocking as they ignore the fact that rape is routinely used as a weapon of war in areas of armed conflict, particularly in areas of ethnic conflicts as a way to redefine ethnic composition, as in Darfur or Rwanda.

Yet, despite both Presidential candidates proclaiming Akin’s remarks as unacceptable, the fact is the United States currently hinders access to safe abortions for thousands of girls and women raped in armed conflict every day.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which administers US humanitarian aid, puts a “no abortion clause” on every contract with NGOs, international organizations or even governments, preventing rightful access to safe abortion services for women – even in cases of rape or when the women’s life is in danger.

USAID’s position on this is clear and provides that “while USAID supports treatment for abortion-related complications, USAID does not support abortion as a means of family planning nor does USAID provide abortions in any circumstances.”

For this reason the Global Justice Center (GJC) launched the “August 12th” campaign last year – in commemoration of the anniversary of the Geneva Conventions. Under the Geneva Conventions girls and women raped in armed conflict are “protected persons” and 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.”

Therefore the US “no abortion” clause not only exacerbates the suffering of rape victims in war, it violates the rights of these victims under international humanitarian law.

On November 5, 2010 during the Universal Periodic Review of the United States by the UN Human Rights Council, Norway recommended that the US “remove its blanket abortion restrictions on humanitarian aid covering medical care given to women and girls raped and impregnated in situations of armed conflict.”

Since the launch of GJC’s “August 12th” campaign, more than 60 international organizations have written urgent letters to President Obama calling on him to lift the abortion restrictions. Among them are Amnesty International U.S.A., the New York City Bar Association, the Paris Bar Association, the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, and the American Medical Women’s Association.

Most recently added to the call to lift the ban is a powerful letter from Women’s Synergie for Victims of Sexual Violence co-founder Justine Masika Bihamba, who works in the conflict area of Eastern Congo. To read Justine’s letter, click here. President Obama now has support from all over the world to lift these restrictions via an executive order.  

In wake of the response to Rep. Akin’s remarks from both Democrats and Republicans alike, the US must now support its words through actions. It is time for President Obama to issue an executive order lifting the abortion ban and ensure that girls and women raped in war are also allowed to make their own health care decisions. A girl or woman impregnated by rape should not be forced to bear the child of her rapist – whether it is in the United States or in armed conflict zones around the world.

“The Invisible War” Between Women and the US Government

“The Invisible War”, a film delving into the injustices faced by women in the military specifically related to sexual assault, has taken the country by storm both politically and socially. The film, which premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, thoughtfully connects U.S. government compiled statistics and the real stories of women and men who were the victims of sexual assault while serving in the military. The film aims to address many issues which include: corruption within the military justice system, impunity for high-ranking military officials, outdated legislation for prosecuting rape in the military “court martial” system, failure of “rape prevention” campaigns implemented in the military, and many others. The film is well put together and evokes quite a few negative emotions towards our government for allowing such an obvious problem to go unsolved, but likely more disturbing, practically unaddressed.

During the film you meet many women and a man who have been affected by this “invisible war,” but there is one specifically who stands out who was assaulted by her superior and later found out she was pregnant and had contracted an STD from her attacker. This brief interview clip is the only time the audience hears from this woman, but the impact is still strong. Her story evokes the questions, what happens to the women who survive their attacks but are burdened with the result of becoming pregnant? What does the US government do for these women, if anything at all?

Unfortunately, the answers to these questions are just as grim as one would expect, if not worse. The Department of Defense began its strict abortion policies in 1979 into the 1980s with the adoption of a “life-of –the-mother-only” limit for using government budget to fund abortions. This barred any government funding to be used for abortions unless there was immediate danger to the mother’s life.  This legislation backed by government was adopted as a provision after Roe v. Wade, in order to prevent taxpayers’ money from being used to fund abortions. This provision was enacted in the form of the Hyde Amendment, which circumvents the use of certain federal funds to pay for abortions therefore forbidding military health insurance to cover the costs of abortions unless threatening to the life of the mother. This amendment often allows women who are raped and impregnated in the military to be forced to make a difficult decision between carrying the child to term, which can cause negative effects on their present and future military career, or pay for the abortion themselves. As unethical of a decision this seems to be, that is not the only problem since the complexity of access to abortion when looking at military health centers and accessing abortion in a time of a war, while overseas, or when forbidden by domestic law only further magnifies the issue.

This “choice” given to female soldiers who are suffering from unwanted pregnancies between paying for the abortion themselves and carrying the child to term is not only a question of funding. Funding is only one issue among many. Women are given the right in the military to pay for their own abortions to be done in military health centers if the abortion is sought after the woman was raped or a victim of incest. Assuming the woman has the funds to pay for her own abortion (if not, this creates an entirely different issue) the above clause may not seem unreasonable. That assumption is wrong. The problem is rape within the military, as demonstrated by “Invisible War,” has very low rates of conviction and even of being reported. For the women who are either ignored, charged with crimes themselves when reporting rape, or are scared to report their rape, where do they go if they need an abortion? There is no proof; therefore there are no safe facilities for access. What if these women are deployed in a country, such as Afghanistan, where access to abortion is illegal in domestic law? What if they are overseas in a country where medical care and facilities are not easily accessible or are simply not able to safely and sanitarily perform such a procedure? Essentially the United States military says, “Too bad.”

However, Congress is no longer ignoring the issue and is bringing it to the public’s attention through media attention and other means. Democratic New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen is not allowing this issue to be pushed under the rug like so many others which go unanswered in the US military, but is taking actions through an amendment which would give military women the right to be covered under their military insurance for abortions. The amendment brings military standards for abortions to the same level as the federal government officials’ standards.  It would allow military women to finally enjoy the same rights as the people and government they are fighting to protect. The amendment has already gained support from Democrats and Republicans alike in the Senate, becoming approved and attached to the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act written and submitted by the Senate Armed Services Committee. Although there is known support for the amendment among Senators, an official Senate vote needs to be considered for the amendment to be included in the final cut of the Act. It is believed that Senate approval will be relatively manageable; however passing the Act with the amendment through the Republican controlled House of Representatives presents a different set of problems. The House has not included the amendment in their version of the Act, and it seems unlikely that they will unless there are some serious compromises being made. The Department of Defense has already expressed their support through the sending of a letter detailing as such, but Congress will need a lot more than letters to pass this Act.

This dilemma within our military only further proves there is something in our American way of thinking, our politics, and our governmental policies, which needs a serious paradigm shift in the way we view abortion. GJC’s “August 12th Campaign” reinforces just that. The US government, which prohibits US humanitarian aid funds to be used for abortions, rather allow women and children to suffer through pregnancies often induced through rape, torture, and incest which can result in death, injury, depression, etc. than to reevaluate this traditional American “war on abortion” we seem to be engaged in. This point of view is only holding America back from progressing towards becoming a true leader in human rights, both domestically and internationally. We have arrived at the time in America when religion needs to become disengaged from our policies and instead the equality of our servicewomen, our dedication to international human rights treaties and law, and the well being of Americans in general needs to take precedence over doing things just for the sake of saying, “This was how it was done in the past.”

Post by: Jocelyn Garibay

The critical connection between maternal mortality and unsafe abortions

With the 2015 target of the Millennium Development Goals approaching, the United Nations recently issued a report detailing the progress made on each goal.  While some goals have made major gains and will reach their targets by 2015, “Goal 5: Improve maternal health”, is not seeing the gains other goals have made.  The stated target of Goal 5 was to “reduce by three quarters, between 1990 and 2015, the maternal mortality ratio”.  Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia account for most of the maternal mortality cases.

The report notes that maternal mortality rates could decrease by ensuring that women receive ante-natal care, give birth in the presence of skilled health professionals, and have unobstructed access to family planning and contraceptives.  Though the report mentions access to family planning and contraceptives, it makes no explicit mention of access to safe abortions.  The connection between maternal mortality rates and lack of access to safe abortions is critical, and cannot be ignored.  The CEDAW Committee has repeatedly made the connection between maternal mortality and unsafe abortions, noting the “high rates of maternal mortality due to high numbers of abortions among adolescents, and unsafe, clandestine, and illegal abortions”.

July’s summit on family planning in London raised $2.6 billion dollars to improve access to family planning and contraceptives for an additional 120 million women by 2020.  One article suggests that “[w]hat vaccinations are to infant mortality, contraception is to maternal mortality.”  The organizers of the family planning summit claim that the money raised will result in 200,000 fewer women dying in pregnancy.  While it is important for women to be able to obtain contraceptives wherever they are in the world, it is equally as important that women have access to safe abortions if contraceptives fail, or if a rape victim seeks an abortion to help end the psychological trauma still lingering from her assault.   If women are forced to resort to unsafe abortions because they are illegal, unaffordable, or unobtainable, the maternal mortality rate will stay steady.

CEDAW Review Showcases State Parties’ Reluctance to Fully Disclose Shortcomings in Abortion Policies and the Subsequent Repercussions

July 9, 2012 began the 52nd Session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.  This session, which continues for three weeks, includes reviews of the reports submitted by several countries that are up for review.  Each country that is a party to the Convention must submit periodic reports as an accountability measure detailing how they are complying with the requirements of the Convention, along with progress and updates relevant to the Convention.  Upon reviewing each country’s submission, the Committee is then able to question the country regarding its report, and make general recommendations.  While the reports are intended to detail all areas of the country that pertain to the Convention, there are often gaps in information or areas that are not given the same degree of focus as others.  Proposing questions to the country’s delegation allows the Committee to dig deeper to find out that missing information, or reasons as to why it was not included in the first place, as well as to challenge any areas where the country does not appear to be meeting the standards required by the Convention.

On July 17, Mexico was up for review.  The head of the Mexican delegation began by presenting a synopsis of the country report to the Committee.  After about an hour, the question and answer period began where many issues were discussed including women’s access to education, female representation in government, violence against women, and more.  While there seemed to be a heavy focus on addressing the state of violence against women and female missing persons, there was a noticeable lack of attention to the issue of women’s access to abortions and the inconsistent policies throughout the country relating to abortions.  The subject of abortion was not raised during Mexico’s introductory presentation and even in the question period it took a significant amount of time for anyone to even mention it.

The questioning segment of the review is conducted by taking several questions at a time, and then intermittently allowing the delegation up for review to organize a response to all of the questions presented so as to allow for efficient answers and avoid overlap and repetition.  While this method does allow for consolidation of responses, it also presents the opportunity to gloss over certain questions or parts of questions, which is precisely what happened with most of the instances where abortion was included as a part of a question.   CEDAW experts asked about ensuring that federalism would not be used to perpetuate the limiting of women’s human rights and about the impact of failure to universally provide abortions on maternal mortality rates.  In both instances, the delegation attempted to skirt the issue, but when they were finally pressed upon it, they were forced to concede their shortcomings.

Mexico universally allows for abortion in the case of rape.  However in other circumstances, the individual states within Mexico determine their own legislation on the issue, and there are several states that protect life at conception.  This inconsistency and great potential for discrimination precipitated the question on federalism.  The delegation finally admitted that due to the current state of Mexican laws, it is possible that one’s degree of protection against discrimination varies simply depending upon where she is born.  They recognized that they must make headway in terms of equality in this area, especially regarding their CEDAW obligations, and they have not yet achieved this.  The delegation furthermore stated that failure to provide access to safe abortions continues to be one of the leading causes, the 5thleading cause to be exact, of maternal mortality.  While they claim that Mexico is committed to reducing the maternal mortality rate, they simultaneously have disclosed that the 7% of maternal deaths result from abortion related issues, and that figure is not decreasing fast enough despite the programs and measures put in place.

The main point of concern is surprisingly, not only the fact that Mexico has such a long way to go in the realm of guaranteeing universally equal abortion rights and working towards decreasing maternal mortality rates.  The most disconcerting facet of this situation is how easily overlooked the entire topic of abortion almost was.  Not only was Mexico ready to push abortion aside and hope no one would bring it up, but when it was brought up, the delegation was almost completely able to leave those questions unanswered.  Only when the CEDAW experts consistently and adamantly pressed for answers to their questions was the delegation finally sufficiently cornered such that they couldn’t avoid the question any longer.  The purpose of reviewing the parties to the Convention is to ensure that the parties are adhering to the Convention.  The only way to truly ensure this is if all parties cooperate and participate in an honest manner.  It is hardly expected that upon signing a treaty every party will instantly conform to the requirements of that treaty.  Instead, progress and effort must be demonstrated that the parties are moving in the direction of full fulfillment of the requirements.  However, either for fear of sanctions, unwillingness to make the necessary changes, or some other motivator that prevents parties from addressing the areas they need to improve in, parties seem to consistently fail to fully convey an accurate portrayal of what is happening in the country.  Fortunately, NGOs often pick up the slack by filing shadow reports, making sure that Committees has a more complete picture of the state of affairs.  However, the CEDAW review of Mexico highlights the need for countries to be more amenable to complete, true reports, and shows the need for Committee members and any other reviewing body to take a skeptical eye to reports submitted by countries.

Disappointment at Rio+20 for Women

The outcome of the Rio+20 summit failed women everywhere. Language regarding reproductive rights and gender equality was dropped from the draft agreement, representing a significant step backwards from earlier agreements.

Going into the summit, the draft document included specific language ensuring reproductive rights and gender equality. A handful of oppressive regimes opposed this language and the Holy See led the opposition in an influential campaign that insisted on equating women’s reproductive rights with abortion. In reality, reproductive rights are about a great deal more than abortion, but unfortunately, the Holy See was able to assert enough pressure to succeed in getting the language removed from the agreement, leaving behind only vague references to reproductive health.

Ironically, most states are already under obligation to ensure reproductive rights and gender equality. As of today, 187 states have ratified Convention on the Elimination on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which requires member states to, among other things, take affirmative action to eliminate gender discrimination and to ensure that women have access to affordable, quality health services, including reproductive health. In fact, lack of access to reproductive health services and information is considered discriminatory against women under CEDAW. Unfortunately, due to weak enforcement mechanisms and a substantial number of reservations taken by states in ratifying the convention, performance of state obligations under CEDAW has been relatively poor. Including strong reproductive rights and gender equality commitments in the Rio+20 agreement would have been an excellent way to reinforce the importance of these issues, especially since it would have been from a sustainable development perspective.

Every day, evidence of the importance of reproductive rights and gender equality can be found in the news. For instance, Save the Children just came out with a  report on family planning finding that complications during pregnancy is the number one killer of teenage girls worldwide; babies born to mothers under the age of 18 are 60% more likely to die before their first birthday; and a “major barrier to family planning is that many vulnerable women and girls are unable to exercise their rights to make decisions over their own health care, including family planning.” Additionally, in Uganda, where approximately 16 women die during childbirth every day, women activists are currently taking a case to the Supreme Court in an effort to force the government to provide better maternal health care.

Rio+20 represents a lost opportunity. What could have been a significant step forward for women’s rights turned into yet another instance where women were left out of the picture.

If These Walls Cold Talk, They Would Be Censored: U.S. Restrictions on Pro-Choice Speech

If United States foreign assistance funded the writing of this paper, which addresses free speech and women‘s rights issues of the utmost international concern, the authors, two United States citizens, would be censored—by U.S. law—from making any statements that advocated for abortion in any context.

Because the writing of this paper is not conditioned on the revocation of the authors‘ First Amendment rights, this paper can and will examine the legality and impact of U.S. abortion speech restrictions on foreign assistance recipients. The restrictions violate U.S. constitutional protections of free speech and contravene international law regarding democratic reform of criminal abortion laws abroad and human rights guarantees, including the right to health. Although the U.S. places myriad abortion-related restrictions on foreign assistance, this paper focuses on the speech concerns of the Helms Amendment3 in the context of domestic constitutional law and the Helms and Siljander Amendments4 in the context of international law. 

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Children of War

The conversation about the importance of providing abortion services to victims of rape in armed conflicts would be incomplete without looking at the impact on children born to rape victims. The international community has already recognized forced pregnancy as a crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) but it has a limited application since it requires all three elements of the crime to be satisfied. Article 7, paragraph 2 (f) requires–(1) unlawful confinement of a woman (2) forcibly made pregnant (3) with the intent of carrying out other grave violations of the international law. It is unclear what exactly falls under other grave violations of international law and means that women who were forcibly made pregnant but escaped or forcibly made pregnant without the requisite intent are not protected under the Statute.

As a result of rape or forced impregnation, these unwanted children whose mothers were forced to carry them to term due to lack of abortion services are often subject to stigma, discrimination, abandonment, abuse, neglect, and even infanticide, especially in cases of boys who are seen as potential enemy combatants. These children are commonly rejected not only by their mothers who seek to avoid shame but also by the entire community- they are seen as illegitimate, “enemy” children and may be denied citizenship rights, effectively rendering them stateless. In Rwanda, children born out of rape are often referred to as “children of hate” or “children of bad memories.”Lacking necessary support from their mothers and communities, rape children are caught up in a vicious cycle and end up getting exploited, becoming child soldiers or turning to prostitution and crime. They are more likely to suffer psychological and physical trauma as a result of unsuccessful abortion attempts by their mothers or nonexistent neonatal care, and are at a higher risk to contract HIV. They also often have attachment and trust issues even later in life and are unable to maintain familial relationships. Even children who are kept by their mothers are often raised in extreme poverty resulting from societal stigma that prevents rape victims from finding a job given lack family support or alternative childcare options.

Currently there are no specific initiatives by the international community that would protect and provide assistance to rape babies. The ICRC, WHO, and UNFPA merely issued recommendations recognizing the need to combat stigma associated with rape children. Readily available access to safe abortion services could provide an immediate solution for rape victims who are now forced to carry to term an unwanted pregnancy and later abandon or even murder their unwanted children.

Syria to reconsider its abortion law

Recently a Saudi cleric Sheikh Ali al-Maliki expressed an opinion that Syrian women raped by gang-like militia or forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad should be allowed to undergo abortion.  He described rape as one of the most heinous crimes against women that is worse than murder.

Current Syrian law only allows abortion to save woman’s life making abortion in all other circumstances including illegal.  Penalty for performing an abortion with woman’s consent is one to three years imprisonment, and penalty for a woman who consented to abortion is six months to three years imprisonment but can be reduced if abortion is done to save woman’s honor. Syria is officially a secular state with the vast majority of its population practicing Islam but its abortion restrictions are harsh even for the Islamic world.  Schools of Muslim law universally accept that abortion is permitted if continuing the pregnancy would put the mother’s life in danger even if the pregnancy is over 120 days old but variation of thought exists when it comes to other exceptions to the abortion ban. Tunisia and Turkey have significantly liberalized their abortion law and allow it under virtually all circumstances within the first trimester, although a recent bill pending in Turkey could effectively outlaw abortion. Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia allow abortion in cases of serious health risk. Iran, Kuwait, and Qatar created an exception in cases of fetal defects assuming the pregnancy is less than 120 days old. Sudan, Egypt, Bosnia, Algeria, and Bangladesh make abortion permissible in circumstances of rape or incest. Examples of the above mentioned interpretations show that Islamic law can be flexible when it comes to women’s reproductive rights. Pending decision of the Council of Senior Muslim Scholars, Syrian women might soon also be able to legally abort fetuses conceived as a result of war rape.