FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - November 23, 2017
[NEW YORK and GOMA] – On Saturday, the world celebrates the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. In anticipation of this day, a global coalition of ninety civil society organizations calls on the European Commission to ensure that abortion, a medical procedure, is included in the medical care offered to women and girls, particularly in areas where rape is used as a weapon of war.
International humanitarian law mandates that war victims must have access to any medical procedure required by their condition without discrimination. Receiving care in humanitarian settings is often difficult but even where care is available, abortion is often routinely denied as the only necessary medical procedure due to aid restrictions imposed by the United States.
In September 2015, the Commission clarified its legal position on safe abortion stating that international law may justify offering abortion services rather than perpetuating what amounts to inhumane treatment for war rape victims.
In an open letter to the Commission, the Coalition states: “In light of increasing attacks on their right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, largely driven by a dangerous anti-abortion ideology in the United States, now is a critical time for the EU to shift its position from paper to practice. Since the EU, along with its Member States, is the largest humanitarian aid donor in the world, it holds a unique responsibility to ensure international medical protocol follows the principle of non-discrimination enshrined in IHL.”
The denial of abortions is also a top contributor to maternal mortality. According to the World Health Organization, around 7 million women are admitted to hospitals every year in developing countries, as a result of unsafe abortion. Julienne Lusenge, President of SOFEPADI an organization working with survivors of sexual and gender-based violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and a signatory to the letter says, “If we want a better world, let's put women in a safe environment at childbirth and also stop detaining women in maternity wards for not paying fees.”
“The Commission’s clarification was a welcome step, but two years later we still haven’t seen any action taken to make it a reality for girls and women,” says Stephanie Johanssen, EU and UN Advocacy Director for the Global Justice Center, a legal advocacy group. “Abortion should not be treated differently than anti-HIV treatment, a blood transfusion, or any other medical aid required for war wounds. Commemorations every year to honor women’s rights are great, but not enough if we don’t make the strong laws we have, such as the Geneva Conventions, work for women.”
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