Abortion Access in Conflict

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.


Contradictions and Empty Guestures – USAID’s New Policy on Gender Equality

According to the United States Agency of International Development’s new Gender Equality and Female Empowerment Policy, “Gender equality and female empowerment are …fundamental for the realization of human rights.” This policy directing USAID aims to: Reduce gender disparities in access to resources and opportunities, reduce gender-based violence and mitigate its harmful effects on individuals and communities and increase capabilities of women and girls to realize their rights, determine their life outcomes. Certainly these are lofty and noble goals. Yet, is USAID making an empty gesture?

The tactical and deliberate use of rape as a weapon of war has been reported in at least 36 recent conflicts. Often, rape is used as an effective tool to terrorize and destroy communities, leaving women and girls with significant and sometimes deadly, physical, psychological and social consequences. Following the horrific wake of the Rwandan Genocide, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) found that rape can be a war crime, crime against humanity and constitutive act of genocide.

Yet, for the victims of these heinous crimes, the chance of having a full and healthy life is often denied. Even if women impregnated by rape survive the high risks of maternal mortality, they often suffer further ostracisation from their community. Facing these harmful outcomes, women are denied the option of abortions – perpetuating their suffering and trauma.

USAID, while paying much lip-service to its gender-egalitarian vision, hardly mentions sexual violence against women in its policy. As one of its policy goals, USAID aims to reduce gender-based violence and mitigate its harmful effects. In light of the suffering of impregnated women through rape, isn’t the most effective means in mitigating the harmful effects to provide safe abortions?

However, currently under the Helms Amendment and other related abortion restrictions on foreign assistance, prohibits the use of U.S. foreign assistance funding to motivate or provide abortions. This prohibits all non-governmental organizations (NGOs), governments and humanitarian aid providers from using U.S. funds to “motivate” or provide abortions. The restrictions, placed in allforeign assistance contracts, contain no exceptions for rape or to save the life of a woman and affects the provision of services, as well as censors all abortion speech. Thus far from alleviating and mitigating the harmful effects of sexual violence, the prohibition actually perpetuates further suffering for the victims.

Additionally, the current restrictions violates the rights afforded to the “wounded and sick” persons, who are entitled to non-discriminatory and comprehensive medical care as envisioned under common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions and the legally-binding principles of customary international law. The prohibition has the effect of systematically denying girls and women in armed conflicts the right to complete and comprehensive medical care. How can women realize the fundamental human rights when current USAID restrictions deny them?

Although the USAID’s new policy highlights the importance of gender equality, it fails to meaningfully alleviate the harmful consequences of sexual violence. Behind the talk of gender equality and women empowerment lays a deep contradiction. While promising women relief and the realization of their human rights, USAID restrictions do the opposite. If women are to truly enjoy the ideals set out in USAID’s new policy paper, the Helms Amendment needs to be revoked.

Vice-Presidents of European Parliament Urge President Obama to Lift US Abortion Restrictions

Two Vice-Presidents of the European Parliament, Alexander Alvaro, MEP, and Edward McMillan-Scott, MEP, have written a letter as a part of the GJC's "Augsut 12th Campaign" to Obama to issue an Executive Order to lift all current U.S humanitarian aid restrictions that prohibit girls and women raped in armed conflict from terminating their pregnancy, urging the US to abide by common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

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UK Parliamentarians' Letter to President Obama

Letter sent to President Obama by a group of UK Parliamentarians' as a part of the GJC's "August 12th Campaign" asking that he issue an Executive Order lifting US abortion restrictions on humanitarian aid.

The letter was signed by: Tom Brake, MP; Baroness Tonge; Lord Ashdown; Ann Coffey, MP; Baroness Ludford, MEP; Jane Ellison, MP; Heidi Alexander, MP; Andrew George, MP; Madeleine Moon, MP; Lord Tope, CBE; Pauline Latham, MP, OBE; Jo Swinson, MP; Rt. Hon. Dame Joan Ruddock, MP; Sir Menzies Campbell, MP, CBE, QC; Baroness Greengross; Debbie Abrahams, MP; Baroness Kinnock of Holy Head; Baroness Walmsley; Baroness Thornton; Kate Green, MP; Sir Bob Russell, MP; Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer; Lord Lester of Herne Hill; Lord Morgan; Baroness Falkner of Margarvine; Lilian Greenwood, MP; Lord Faulkner of Worcester; Lord Richards; Baroness Coussins; Mike Gapes, MP; Jenny Willmott, MP; Lord Redesdale; Baroness Prosser of Battersea; Luciana Berger, MP; Julian Huppert, MP; Rt. Hon. Lord Steel Aikwood; Rt. Hon. Dr. Denis MacShane, MP; John Hemming, MP; Dame Anne Begg, MP; Lord Judd; Lord Puttnam of Queens Gate; Lyn Brown, MP; and Glenda Jackson, MP.

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How the “August 12th Campaign” sparked a movement

Top Queen Councils in protest against President Obama’s “no abortion” clause

The London Times published an article feauturing the Queen’s Counsel’s effort to pressure President Barack Obama to issue an Executive Order lifting the “no abortion” clause that affects U.S humanitarian aid for girls and women involved in conflict.

This movement was inspired by the launching of the Global Justice Center’s “August 12th” campaign which urges President Obama to reinstate U.S support for the Geneva Conventions by removing the blanket abortion prohibitions embedded in U.S humanitarian aid that endanger women and girls who have been raped and impregnated in armed conflict. To read more information regarding to this campaign, click here.

Almost 50 of the UK’s most prominent Queen’s Counsel, headed by Amanda Pinto, QC, director of international affairs of the Criminal Bar Association and Vice Chairman of the international committee of the Bar Council, have written urging Obama to take action on this issue.

To read the article click here.

The Perils of the Inaccessibility to Reproductive Healthcare in Eastern Burma

A woman should never have to resort to using a fishing hook or dangerous medications as the only feasible options to terminating a pregnancy. Yet these dangerous tactics remain pandemic in eastern Burma where inaccessibility to proper healthcare and safe abortions threatens the livelihood of thousands of women. A recent report by Ibis Reproductive Health highlights the dire state that women on the Thai-Burma border are in. The fact that so many women in Burma turn to these fatal and unsafe method of pregnancy termination underscore the need for safe abortions.

Yet, despite this clear need, USAID silences any prospects for these women to enjoy a healthier future. The United States, being the largest donor of humanitarian aid, has an immense amount of influence on how aid is distributed. When Congress implemented the Helms Amendment in 1973, abortion restrictions were placed on foreign aid. Under “Helms” no USAID funding may be used to pay for abortion as a method of family planning. The amendment contains a provision that prohibits abortion speech, saying that the funds cannot be used to “motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions.” The Global Justice Center staunchly argues that these abortion restrictions are a violation of the rights of girls and women raped in armed conflict under international humanitarian law. This is because the Geneva Conventions recognize that women and girls raped in armed conflict, as “protected persons”, are classified as “wounded and sick” and are entitled to “receive to the fullest extent practicable and with the least possible delay, the medical care and attention required by their condition.” Therefore, depriving these girls and women of this care is unlawful and this injustice is the driving force behind the Global Justice Center’s August 12th campaign.

Focusing in on eastern Burmese women, it is clear that they do not have a credible institution to turn to when it comes to reproductive healthcare. In fact, reproductive healthcare in Burma is known to be the worst in the world.  The “Separated by Borders” report, released by Ibis Reproductive Health and the Global Health Access program exposes the crippling healthcare infrastructure in eastern Burma.  The GJC has long noted the terrible state of eastern Burmese women when it comes to accessibility to reproductive health care and abortion, especially during conflict. The Global Justice Center is using legal tools to work diligently to help lift the “no abortion” clause in U.S humanitarian aid to make this type of care more accessible so women in order to prevent prolonged suffering.

Based on the Ibis Reproductive Health Report, RH Reality Check author Anna Clark notes the life-threatening repercussions of depriving Burmese women of reproductive services including unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions and death. Furthermore, 80 percent of women in eastern Burma have never used birth control due to the overall inaccessibility of contraceptives and the lack of legitimate healthcare.

Granting women in eastern Burma their rights, including access to reproductive healthcare will be a step in the right direction for Burma. Burmese women will not only be alleviated from suffering, but, they will also have the opportunity to become more active members of society. Utilizing the rule of law, the Global Justice Center works to dismantle the patriarchal structures inhibiting women’s rights to make sure that the prioritization of women’s health will be factored into the equation in the years to come.

To read more about this issue on RH Reality Check, click here and here.

To read the “Separated by Borders” report, click here.

To read more about the Global Justice Center’s August 12th Campaign, click here.

President Obama Urged to End U.S. Violation of the Rights of Rape Survivors in Armed Conflict

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—August 25, 2011

To coincide with the anniversary of the U.S. signing the Geneva Conventions, the Global Justice Center launched the global “August 12th”campaign to urge President Obama to immediately lift the “no abortion” restriction attached to all U.S. humanitarian aid for medical care given to girls and women raped and impregnated in armed conflict.

[NEW YORK, NY] – Thousands of girls and women raped and impregnated in armed conflict face additional suffering by being routinely denied abortions in humanitarian medical settings. The Geneva Conventions mandate “comprehensive” and “non-discriminatory” medical care to the wounded and sick during armed conflict and United Nations treaty bodies and courts characterize deliberate denial of abortion to impregnated rape victims as cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Yet, the United States (the “U.S.”) attaches a “no abortion” prohibition to all U.S. humanitarian aid, including for war rape victims whose rights are guaranteed under the laws of war. Therefore, the Global Justice Center (the “GJC”) coordinated a consortium of over 3,000 leading legal, human rights, public health and humanitarian organizations and experts from the U.S., Canada, Europe, Africa, and Latin & South America to urge President Obama to immediately lift the “no abortion” restriction attached to all U.S. humanitarian aid. Click here to view the GJC’s letter to the President.

Amanitare's Letter to President Obama

Letter sent to President Obama by Amanitare as a part of the GJC's "August 12th Campaign" asking that he issue an Executive Order lifting US abortion restrictions on humanitarian aid.

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