Every year, 25 million women across the world are forced to obtain unsafe abortions. The United States, through its foreign policy, is deeply complicit in the violation of these women’s right to life and equality under international law.
International human-rights frameworks guard against these violations and hold the US and other countries accountable. The International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), for instance, details the basic rights and freedoms guaranteed to all people worldwide, including the right to life, the right to liberty and the right to equality. Such rights are not symbolic: they are grounded in the dignity of each human being and protected by international law.
Since 1966, 172 parties — including the US — have signed the ICCPR. It is one of the few human-rights treaties that the US has ratified. But today, the US imposes illegal abortion policies that brazenly violated its obligations under the Covenant and other binding provisions of international law.
GJC in the News
Excerpt of Ms. Magazine blog post by GJC Development Director Danielle Stouck.
I first met Fatima and her four young children at a coffee shop in downtown Amman in the summer of 2014. With tears in her eyes and her youngest son asleep in her arms, she recounted the details of her harrowing escape from Syria’s southwestern Daraa province and her experience crossing the border into Jordan.
Not everyone in Fatima’s family escaped safely. Her husband and brother, she explained, were missing and presumed dead after a raid in her village had left her home and community decimated. She was alone, struggling to make ends meet and desperate for help. She and her children were traumatized. And she was pregnant.
Unwanted pregnancy occurs everywhere, but it is especially concerning in crisis settings, where displaced and refugee women are among the most vulnerable of at-risk populations. As a recent Guttmacher Institute report on refugee reproductive rights points out, “Women’s needs do not suddenly stop or diminish during an emergency—in fact, they become greater.”
When Fatima reached out to me in 2014, I was working with a Jordanian non-governmental organization to strengthen protections against sexual and gender-based violence and provide critical sexual and reproductive health services to refugees from Iraq and Syria. Fully funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, our work involved developing strong referral pathways for refugees in need of family planning support, including abortion services.
Thankfully, I was able to connect Fatima with the medical and psychosocial support that she so desperately needed. She was able to safely terminate her pregnancy and was provided with contraceptives and counseling as she worked to rebuild her life in Jordan. But five years later, I would be barred from providing women like her with the same level of care. Under the Trump administration’s reinstatement and expansion of the dangerous and illegal Global Gag Rule, I would be “gagged”—and women like Fatima would be denied information critical to their health and their futures.
Read GJC Staff Attorney Danielle Hites' post on the Ms. Magazine Blog.
Within days of assuming office in 2017, President Trump re-instated and expanded the Global Gag Rule, which restricts funding for international organizations that provide or “promote” abortions. Two years later, feminist lawmakers serving in the now Democratic-led House kicked off their own terms by attempting to roll it back.
Pending legislation to establish a budget and keep the government open beyond the three week negotiation period includes a provision that would protect NGOs from being categorically defunded, effectively rescinding the Global Gag Rule. The House spending bill would render health and medical services of such organizations, including counseling and referral services, as insufficient for the sole basis for ineligibility for U.S. funding, and allow NGOs to use non-U.S. funding with fewer regulations.
Every Republican president since Ronald Reagan has enacted some version of the Global Gag Rule, but Trump drastically expanded its scope—and magnitude of harm. NGOs receiving U.S. foreign aid are now prohibited from spending any of their funds, including funding from non-U.S. sources, on abortion-related services, referrals, counseling or advocacy. Trump’s iteration of the Global Gag Rule also applies to all U.S. global health assistance, as opposed to previous version which were centered solely on U.S. family planning funds, meaning it affects $8.8 billion of foreign aid rather than $575 million.
Beyond Killing: The Critical Role of Gender in the Recognition, Prevention and Punishment of Genocide
GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan and international law barrister Sareta Ashraph wrote an op-ed in Just Security on the importance of recognizing the role that gender plays in genocide.
One of the women who did manage to escape was Nadia Murad. Nadia, along with the rest of her village of Kocho, was trapped by ISIL until August 15, 2014. Then, ISIL executed most of the village’s men and older boys, and forcibly transferred women and children deeper into ISIL-controlled territory. After enduring three months in captivity as a sex slave, Nadia, who was 21 at the time, escaped through her own bravery and with the help of a Muslim family. Now, she campaigns to bring attention and justice for the Yazidi genocide, and the sexual violence committed as an essential part of ISIL’s annihilative violence. This week, she accepted the Nobel Peace Prize for her work.
Her acceptance speech came one day after the 70th anniversary of the U.N. General Assembly’s adoption of the Genocide Convention, which first codified the crime of genocide. The Convention’s understanding of the crime of genocide owes much to Raphael Lemkin, whose work, reflections, and advocacy spurred the international community and the then-fledgling United Nations to action. The Convention sets out binding legal obligations on States to not commit, and to prevent, suppress and punish genocide. These obligations did not protect Nadia and other Yazidis captured by ISIL in August 2014. ISIL’s genocide against the Yazidis was largely not prevented by the international community, and no prosecutions for genocide have yet occurred. This is not unique, as recent reports about attacks on Myanmar’s Rohingya community indicate. Despite the Convention’s venerated status, there has been relatively low compliance with the legal obligations it entails.
What drew you to working in international law? And what were your first steps?
I knew from a young age that I wanted to work on issues affecting the rights of women. I was born and spent my early life in India where I saw a different world to that I would see after my family moved to the United States. My mother was widowed with two children before she was 30 years old. She made the decision to move to the States by herself - a tremendous act of bravery and a leap of faith in her own abilities to create a new life for her and her children. I am very fortunate to have a strong female mentor in my mother. Through her, I developed a keen understanding of the particular challenges that women face, and why it is important to empower and support women as they move through the world.
In college, I specialised in political science and international affairs, which gave me the opportunity to go abroad to study as part of my degree. I spent a year at Sciences Po in Lyon, which exposed me to a range of ideas, to a non-US focused world, and to different conceptions of the role that governments, and political life more broadly, could play. I had already decided to go to law school, but gradually my attention was turned to the international dimensions of law.
At the time I applied to law school, I had already worked for two years in a corporate law firm as a paralegal and I knew that wasn't for me. I applied to University of California at Hastings because it offered a concentration in international law and would allow me to study abroad and to take specialised courses in various facets of public international law. As part of my degree, I spent a semester at the University of Leiden in The Netherlands and while there, I undertook an internship at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. It was a privilege to be able to go abroad and have that experience.