Abortion Helms Amendment

Since the passing of Roe vs. Wade, the United States has been placing abortion restrictions on its foreign aid. These restrictions impact thousands of girls and women raped in armed conflict who are routinely denied access to safe abortions.

Women and girls raped in war are considered “wounded and sick” and therefore are entitled to full medical care under the Geneva Conventions. For rape victims, this medical care includes abortion services. Our Abortion Access in Conflict campaign demands women and girls receive the necessary medical care they need.

GJC is fighting for the US to lift the abortion restrictions placed on all humanitarian aid for war victims and do so while explicitly referencing the rights of female war victims under the Geneva Conventions. We are fighting to ensure that abortions are provided on the ground in humanitarian medical settings around the world.


GJC Weekly News Roundup

Thursday, the UK government released its “Repeal Bill”—the Brexit legislation that converts EU law into domestic law—and it’s missing the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights. Inclusion of the Charter was one of the Labour Party’s six requirements for support of the bill. The Charter guarantees a number of economic and social rights such as healthcare and the protection of personal data. Excluding the Charter could limit the ability to appeal bills that threaten those rights in court.

Monday, The Guardian showed “Why Donald Trump is bad for the health of the world – in five charts.” Most of these charts tie back to the Global Gag Rule, which will raise the abortion rate in sub-Saharan Africa, help triple Uganda’s population in 30 years by decreasing access to contraception, hurt funding to more than 60 countries and increase the number of unsafe abortions and maternal deaths. Trump’s 2018 budget also makes deeper cuts to global healthcare funding than ever before.

Wednesday, the United States eliminated its war crimes bureau, the Office of Global Criminal Justice. In Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s restructuring of the State Department, he is downgrading the office to a section of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. The demotion will make it more difficult to shed light on war crimes and prosecute war criminals. Three former U.S. Ambassadors-at-Large for War Crimes Issues condemned the decision in an op-ed, writing, “In effectively closing this office and eliminating the ambassadorial position, this administration removes the most potent diplomatic weapon in its arsenal and sends an unequivocal signal these are no longer priorities for the United States.”

Wednesday, Chile’s senate passed a bill legalizing abortion in some cases: when the pregnancy is a result of rape, when the fetus is unviable and when the mother’s life is at risk. Abortion had previously been illegal under all circumstances. The senate narrowly approved the bill, and it now proceeds to the house. President Michelle Bachelet, former Executive Director of UN Women, campaigned on changing the strict abortion law when she was re-elected in 2014.

Photo credit: UK Department for International Development Flickr(CC-BY-SA-2.0)

GJC Weekly News Roundup

Thursday, an appeals court ruled that abortion law in Northern Ireland should be determined by a legislature, not by courts or local government. It ruled against a change in law to allow abortions in cases of rape or fatal fetal abnormality. Abortion restrictions are stricter in Northern Ireland than they are in the rest of the United Kingdom; it is legal only if there is a serious risk to the mother’s health or life. Abortion rights advocates are hoping the case will proceed to the Supreme Court. The same day, the UK government passed legislation allowing women in Northern Ireland to have abortions for free in England under the National Health Service.

Thursday, the state prosecutor’s office charged Antonio Benavides, the former head of Venezuela’s National Guard, with human rights violations. He was removed from his post last week and reassigned to a position as head of Venezuela’s Capital District government after a video of his troops shooting handguns at protestors was released. The office also said they had evidence that his forces used “excessive force” against demonstrators, tortured protestors, issued raids without warrants, and more. Anti-government protests have swelled in recent months, pushing for the resignation of President Nicolas Maduro and demanding general elections.

Monday, the New York Times reported that while the Trump administration has not followed through on policies that help women and families, states have. Experts say that states have been increasingly active on these policies, which have widespread support, because of the slow pace of policymaking in Congress. Recent state legislation includes paid family leave and breast-feeding breaks and lactation rooms in the workplace.

Wednesday, aid groups protested Australia’s decrease in foreign aid spending on family planning and urged the government to compensate for the family planning aid void left by the Trump administration’s Global Gag Rule. Their recently released overseas development assistance budget shows that aid funding for family planning went from AU$46.4m in 2013-2014 to $23.7m in 2015-2016.

Photo credit: Diliff (CC-BY-SA-3.0)

GJC Weekly News Roundup

Friday, Missouri is moving toward passing a bill that would allow landlords and employers to discriminate against women who have had abortions or use contraception. The House passed an expanded version of the bill, known as SB 5, which the Senate first passed on June 14 during a special session called by Governor Eric Greitens. The session was intended to overturn an ordinance that prevents employers and landlords from discriminating against women because of their reproductive health choices. While the Federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act prohibits discrimination against women who have had an abortion, it makes no mention of discrimination based on birth control.

Thursday, the United States rejected a United Nations resolution against gender-based violence because of a paragraph calling for access to reproductive health services, including abortion where it is legal. U.S. official Jason Mack said that while the United States agrees with the “spirit” of the resolution, it cannot endorse the paragraph on reproductive services because t the U.S. does “not recognize abortion as a method of family planning, nor do we support abortion in our reproductive health assistance.”

Monday, the Polish government passed legislation restricting access to emergency contraception. The president signed a bill that classifies the “morning-after pill” as a prescription drug, meaning that women will now have to make a doctor’s appointment to obtain it. Polish doctors are allowed to refuse treatment based on religious grounds. 

Monday, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, delivered a speech criticizing Western countries for undermining human rights, arguing that “the dangers to the entire system of international law are therefore very real.” He warned that U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s threat to abandon human rights if they hinder terrorism investigations would encourage authoritarian regimes.  He also condemned the Trump administration’s travel ban and “flirtation” with torture.

Photo credit: Yassie CC-BY-SA-3.0

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

GJC Weekly News Roundup

Friday, the New York Times published an editorial about the United States' mixed messages on human rights. While U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley emphasized U.S. commitment to human rights in her address last week, the editorial board writes, “In President Donald Trump’s transactional worldview, human rights are annoying obstacles to making deals.”

Friday, Devex reported that Sweden’s state secretary for international development, Ulrika Modéer, said that Nordic countries cannot fill the gap created by the U.S. Global Gag Rule alone. She said the European Union must take more action on family planning, and non-European countries need to join alliances for reproductive rights.

Monday, Canada released an International Assistance Policy that heavily focuses on gender equality. Within five years, Canada will allocate 15% of its international aid to gender equality programs. Its Women’s Voice and Leadership Program will direct funding to international grassroots organizations that promote women’s rights and gender equality.

Monday, Politico published an investigation into the gender imbalance in U.S. politics. It found that barriers like media and voter sexism, party influence, and fundraising have lessened in importance. Now, the gap stems mostly from the lack of women who run for office. Interest has spiked since the presidential election, however. Politico suggests a few strategies for encouraging this interest: identifying female candidates earlier, pushing women elected to bodies like school boards to run for higher office, and changing the sales pitch used to recruit women by framing politics as a way to fix problems.

Tuesday, the United Nations ruled Ireland’s abortion ban to be a human rights violation. In 2010, an Irish woman traveled to the U.K. to terminate her pregnancy when she learned that the fetus had a fatal birth defect. The United Nations Human Rights Committee released a decision ruling that Ireland owes her damages for the cost of the abortion and “high level of mental anguish.” The UN made a similar ruling on Ireland’s laws last year.

Photo credit: Dmitry Dzhus Flickr CC-BY-2.0

GJC Weekly News Roundup

Sunday, Executive Director of the U.N. Population Fund Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin died. He worked to ensure access to family planning for all. “Family planning is not a privilege but a right. Yet, too many women — and men — are denied this human right,” Osotimehin said.

Tuesday, Devex reported on how the Global Gag Rule has affected conflict-affected populations. In Colombia, a non-profit called Profamilia has provided reproductive health services and education like workshops on gender-based violence to vulnerable towns since 1964. In January, it chose not to comply with the expanded Global Gag Rule, and it lost $1.2 million of USAID funding, $1.5 million for a maternal mortality program, and $300,000 for a Zika prevention program.

Tuesday, authorities in Saudi Arabia detained prominent women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul. While the exact reason for her arrest is unknown, Amnesty International believes it relates to her women’s rights activism. In 2014, she was arrested and held for 73 days for trying to drive a car from the United Arab Emirates to Saudi Arabia.

Tuesday, the Trump administration suggested the possibility of a U.S. exit from the United Nations Human Rights Council. In her first address to the UNHRC and in an op-ed in The Washington Post, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley argued that the council exhibits anti-Israel bias and ignores the human rights violations of its members.

Wednesday, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May said the country needs to be more aggressive in combatting terrorism, “and if our human rights laws get in the way of doing it, we will change the law so we can do it.” May proposed making it easier to deport foreign terrorist suspects and to “restrict the freedom and movements of terrorist suspects” against whom there is not enough evidence to prosecute in court.

Wednesday, The New Yorker explained how the Global Gag Rule affects Africa by targeting women in some of the world’s poorest countries. The United States provides more international health assistance than any other country, and in these regions, there are too few health centers to provide specific services like abortion. The Gag Rule also complicates treatment of women with H.I.V. and AIDS because providers cannot even raise the question of abortion to a woman who’s infected, which will result in more infected children and less money to treat them with.

Photo Credit: U.K. Department for International Development Flickr CC-BY-2.0

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.

GJC Weekly News Roundup

Monday, women gathered outside of the capitol in Hartford, Connecticut as the marches and protests against the Trump administration continued. Women came promoting women’s rights and addressed lawmakers that they were unhappy with the lack of equal rights.

Tuesday, reproductive rights activists protested the new vote to defund Planned Parenthood nationwide. Many protesters and Planned Parenthood supporters site the importance of the organization, which offers not only abortions, but also mammograms, pap smears and contraceptives, all of which are essential to women’s reproductive health.

Tuesday, an interesting article was posted on the importance of essential maternity care and the need for insurance companies to provide women with post-natal medical coverage. It criticizes the new healthcare plan that Republicans are pushing for, as it allows state governments to “waive such essential coverage” which “threatens the small but significant gains made for vulnerable women in the years since Obamacare became law.”

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 Weekly News Roundup

Thursday, here’s a good list of the main provision of the new Republican Health Care Bill. Some of the changes include allowing insurers to charge older adults more than younger adults for the same coverage and Medicaid cuts amounting to $880 billion over the next 10 years. 

Thursday, the Global Gag Rule is negatively affecting women in India where abortion is considered a woman’s right. The Gag Rule could negatively impact India’s sovereignty and put women in danger if access to healthcare is limited. People are arguing that abortion cannot be separated from women’s healthcare, as it should come together as one package in order to protect women.

Thursday, Hillary Clinton speaks out against the “troubling ideas” regarding women and healthcare that have been spreading because of the current administration and President Trump. In her speech, she mentioned that women’s issues should not be considered minor and criticized the efforts to repeal ACA.

GJC Weekly News Roundup

Monday, President Trump is vowing to drastically cut finding for aid programs in developing countries and merge the State Department with USAID. The money slashed from aid programs will be transferred to national security programs. The cut in funding will also affect programs and offices that promote women’s rights and foreign assistance.

Tuesday, the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women has approved Saudi Arabia as a new member of the Commission for the 2018-2022 term. While it received the lowest number of votes when considering a new member, it is still enough to pass the majority threshold. This led to an outrage among human rights activists who say that Saudi Arabian laws repress women. Some, however, see it as an opportunity for Saudi Arabia to reform its laws and for people working to promote women’s rights to find support from leading international organizations.

Wednesday, the House Freedom Caucus gave its approval to a more conservative version of ACA, giving the Republicans another opportunity to repeal President Obama’s Affordable Healthcare Act. One of the latest proposals allows “states to obtain waivers from federal mandates that insurers cover certain “essential health benefits,” like emergency services, maternity care, and mental health and substance abuse services, which many Republicans argue have driven up premiums.” As for reproductive healthcare, the article does not mention any new developments, which is not to say that the new healthcare plan will have the same benefits as Obamacare.

Wednesday, the US is expected to announce revised global gag rule implementation guidelines, which can potentially lead to slashing of approximately $8 billion in U.S. international health assistance. As many global healthcare organizations, including those that offer abortions, rely on US funding, the new guidelines will negatively affect the ability to provide crucial healthcare to women in need. However, there is not guarantee that all NGOs will comply with the new guidelines.

GJC Weekly News Roundup

Tuesday, researchers asked what helps to establish a democratic society? According to a study published by the European Journal of Political Research, it is increased women’s rights that helps a country become more democratic. When women have access to political and social rights and representation, it aids democratic development and helps a country transition from an authoritarian regime.

Wednesday, despite the recent elections in the Netherlands, the “She Decides” fund for family planning is still receiving support from the new leadership and expects support to continue on a national level and international level. Recently, Iceland and Slovenia have joined the campaign and have promised to contribute a total of $190,000. Still, there is a long way to go before the fund reaches its $600 million annual goal to support organizations that will no longer receive financial support from the U.S. due to the expanded Global Gag rule.

Thursday, following the U.S. airstrike against a Syrian air force base on April 7, President Trump was met with both support and criticism. The question that concerns the critics is whether the airstrike is legal by international law standards and whether it constitutes an act of aggression. There are only two justifications for the use of force under international law and Trump’s strike does not meet either criterion.

Thursday, President Trump signed legislation that will cut off federal funding to Planned Parenthood and other organizations that provide abortion services. This measure nullifies a rule that was put in place by President Obama that barred states and local governments from cutting funding for family planning services. While President Trump’s decision has been met with approval from conservatives, there is widespread opposition. Human rights and women’s rights activists worry of the repercussions of the lack of funding for women’s healthcare.

Friday, following the inauguration of President Trump, women across the nation have united to oppose and fight back against new rules and regulations imposed by the Trump administration. Female activists are attempting to maintain the progress that has been made with the Obama administration and encourage more women to join the mobilization against the new President through protest and democratic ideals.

GJC Weekly News Roundup

Sunday, this interactive New York Times article shows the harsh reality of women and children who are fleeing continuous violence brought on by Boko Haram in the Diffa area of Niger. Many settle along the only highway in the region where they are far away from a water source and with limited access to schooling and healthcare.

Monday, the Trump administration announced that it will be terminating funding for the United Nations Population Fund, the leading global provider for family planning services. This is a harsh blow to women and children in the developing world and to advocates for reproductive health care as most of their funding comes from the US and UN.

Monday, President Trump signed an executive order that revokes the 2014 Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces order, which demands fair pay and safe workplaces for women. This order is deemed a counter-progressive measure and negates “hard-fought” victories for women in the workplace.

Tuesday, with recent political decisions made by President Trump undermining U.S.’s leadership in human rights advocacy, former diplomats worry that human rights are not of much importance to the Trump administration. Furthermore, when the US loosens its grip on human rights leadership, many people suffer because of the lack of funding and loss of support for organizations that provide health care.

Friday, following the toxic gas attack in Syria and the UN council meeting to discuss Assad’s regime, the US missile airstrike on a Syrian air base garners outrage as people declare it a violation of international law.

Global Justice Center at the Women's Strike