Senatorial Candidate Rep. Rick Berg. Credit: David Samson, The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead.
Hot on the heels of Rep. Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” firestorm, yet another senatorial candidate has taken an extreme and inhumane stance on a rape victim’s right to choose. In 2007, Rep. Berg (R-ND) voted in favor of a bill that would criminalize abortion, even in cases of rape. The North Dakota penal code knows four categories of felony, ranging from AA to C with AA carrying the severest punishment of a life sentence. It is telling that the bill Berg voted for lists abortion as Class AA “crime”. Horrifically enough, sexual crime classifies as category B offense. In essence, the bill results is a penal system that punishes the victim and not the perpetrator.
The bill was never signed into law, and even if it were, the Supreme Court would have struck it down as unconstitutional. Yet, while Republicans and Democrats have both distanced themselves from these views calling them extreme in domestic policy, punishing war rape victims is mainstream in American foreign policy.
Last year the Global Justice Center launched our “August 12th” campaign, and we continue leading the charge to urge President Obama to issue an executive order lifting the abortion ban on US humanitarian aid, a policy that “twice tortures” war rape victims by denying them their full medical rights, including access to safe abortion services. Consistent with Rep. Berg’s views, USAID’s policy bars recipients of American aid from providing critical services and information about safe abortion options to girls and women in conflict zones impregnated through rape—even in life-threatening cases. These recipients include NGOs and other humanitarian agencies working on the ground in conflict areas such as Burma, Congo or the Sudan, where rape is systematically used as a weapon of war. Current US policy hinders these organizations in helping rape victims. The Atlantic recently published a GJC article about this critical issue. The 1973 Helms Amendment, which is cited as the legal background for USAID’s policy, only prohibits the funding of abortion as a means of family planning—it should not be interpreted as applying to cases of rape or where a woman’s life is in danger. In fact, the current interpretation undisputedly violates international humanitarian law and the Geneva Conventions. It is time to change this.
In wake of the Akin scandal, President Obama emphasized a women’s right to make her own health choices. It is now time for the President to take action and issue an executive order lifting the ban. Restore full medical rights to these girls and women who have suffered the horrors of rape and war.