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.


Global Justice Center at the Planned Parenthood Protest

Global Justice Center at the NYC Women's March

Global Justice Center at the Women's March in DC

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The GGR has continuously been rescinded under democratic presidencies and reinstated under republican presidencies. It was rescinded by President Obama eight years ago and will most likely be reinstated by Trump.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.

OMCT & GJC Report to CAT: Sri Lankan laws condone torture of women and girls

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—November 14, 2016

[NEW YORK and GEVENA (OMCT-GJC)] — Tomorrow, the Committee Against Torture (CAT), during its 59th session, will examine Sri Lanka’s fifth State party report. In October, the Global Justice Center (GJC) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) jointly submitted an alternative report focused on how Sri Lankan law violates the Convention Against Torture by banning abortion in most circumstances, and by authorizing rape in certain instances and child marriage.

Denial of Abortion Services to Women Raped in War is Torture

Today, September 28th is the Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion, an international day celebrated to draw attention to the fact that access to safe and legal abortion is a necessary social good and a human right.

Due to the Helms Amendment that was passed in 1973 as a reaction against Roe vs. Wade, the US currently restricts the provision of safe abortion services with its foreign assistance. These restrictions result in the systematic denial of abortions in the vast majority of humanitarian medical settings around the world.

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In today’s conflicts, sexual violence is used systematically by groups such as ISIS and Boko Haram to demoralize, terrorize, destroy, and even alter the ethnic compositions of entire communities. The US’ denial of safe abortion services to victims of these attacks results in extended and intensified physical and mental suffering.

Childbirth is fourteen times more likely to lead to death than a safe abortion, becoming pregnant from rape in the conditions of war further increases the risk of maternal mortality. Rape causes many physical injuries that increase the danger of pregnancy and childbirth. For many victims of war rape, abortion is a safer option than a dangerous pregnancy.

Furthermore, denial of abortion to a war rape victim compounds the severe mental pain and suffering they are experiencing. Research has shown that being forced to bear the child of a rapist “prolongs the perpetrator’s intrusion, often causing great anguish and shame to the victim.” 

Women seeking illegal abortion services also face the stress of having to seek unsafe treatment with “uncertain outcomes, no proper aftercare and the possibility of being imprisoned if found out.” Impregnated war rape victims are also up to six times more likely to be divorced than those who were not raped and often experience community rejection and physical violence.

Denial of abortion services for rape victims also deprives these women and girls of their decision-making power over their own bodies and can perpetuate victim’s feelings of loss of control, compounding their mental and emotional trauma, causing serious traumatic and stress and a risk of long-lasting psychological problems.

The Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment has found that “highly restrictive abortion laws that prohibit abortions even in cases of incest, rape or fetal impairment or to safeguard the health of the woman violate women’s rights to be free from torture and ill-treatment.” They also found that “[s]tates have an affirmative obligation to reform restrictive abortion legislation that perpetuates torture and ill-treatment by denying women safe access and care.”

It is time for the US and all states to stand up for the rights of women raped in war and not compound their suffering by denying them necessary medical care.

Today we ask you to #BustTheMyths surrounding abortion and fight #AbortionStigmaand the denial of abortion services to women raped in war!

You can read more about our campaign here.