Medical Women's International Association's Letter to President Obama

MARCH 26, 2013: Medical Women's International Association writes letter to President Obama requesting him to issue an Executive Order lifting the US abortion restrictions on USAID.


"Members of MWIA recently returned from participating in the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations. The theme for 2013 was the Elimination and Prevention of All Forms of Violence Against Women and Girls. Unfortunately, the use of rape to disempower women is prevalent worldwide. Not only do women suffer the immediate emotional trauma and chronic mental illness from this sexual assault but are often left with sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies. To deny women the right to terminate such an unwanted pregnancy is unjust. I do not believe that you condone injustice. MWIA talks of “men of good conscience” and I believe that you are such a man. Please step forward and free women from this restriction on their rights."

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August 12th Marks Anniversary of U.S. Signing of the Geneva Conventions – Now It’s Time for President Obama to Fulfill this Pledge for Girls & Women Raped in War

August 12, 2013

Why is a young girl in the Central African Republic raped & impregnated, then DENIED access to a safe abortion, when abortion is legal in CAR for cases of rape?

It’s because of a US ban on humanitarian aid.

Read this powerful article from Baroness Kinnock in the Guardian.

On August 12, 1949, the United States signed the Geneva Conventions. Yet, 64 years later we are not living up to our pledge. We provide life-saving medical care to the those “wounded and sick” in war – unless they are young girls and women rape and impregnated through war rape.

That is why, on August 12, 2011, the Global Justice Center launched its August 12th Campaign to end systemic discrimination against girls and women raped and impregnated in armed conflict, who are routinely denied access to safe abortions, even in lifesaving situations and when they’ve been the victim of brutal rape.

We have tremendous progress, but we need your help to WIN.

Help us end this inhumane policy – PLEASE SUPPORT OUR WORK BY DONATING TODAY.  

A Few Highlights of our August 12th Campaign:

August 12th, 2011 – The Global Justice Center’s campaign begins.

September 2012 –  A coalition representing over 3,300 groups, has written letters to President Obama, urging him to issue an executive order lifting U.S. abortion restrictions on humanitarian aid for girls and women raped in armed conflict.

January 10, 2013 – The UK announces a historic change in their policy, acknowledging that girls and women raped in armed conflict have absolute legal rights to abortions when medically necessary under the Geneva Conventions.

March 14, 2013 – For the first time in history, the UN Secretary General makes a recommendation in his annual Report on sexual violence in conflict that aid girls and women raped in armed conflict must include services to terminate an unwanted pregnancy resulting from rape.

April 8, 2013 – The Netherlands affirms the right of war rape victims to have access to safe abortion services.

June 24, 2013 – The UN Security Council unanimously passes Resolution 2106, which for the first time, explicitly calls for UN bodies and donor countries to provide “non-discriminatory and comprehensive health services, including sexual and reproductive health.”

But We’re Not Done Yet! Our Work Continues…

This campaign is far from over! Today, Women Under Siege published a compelling piece by GJC Senior Counsel Akila Radhakrishnan, on the devastating effects of the US policy in places of conflict, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo.

With support from people like you, we can end to this discrimination and give a voice to women all over the world. DONATE TODAY.

Like a Doll: Brave 11-Year Old Rape Victim Betrayed by Chilean Government

In Chile, the debate over abortion has been rekindled by after the government has cruelly denied an 11-year old girl who was raped and impregnated by her mother’s partner. Instead, she is being forced to bear the child of her rapist. This young victim, Belén, faces a high risk of mortality. However, under Chilean law, she does not have the option of a safe abortion.

Since 1973, established under General Pinochet, Chile has had an abortion ban under all circumstances. This prohibition has sparked a national outrage with the fate of a child hanging in the balance between life and death.

During a recent interview, Belén said that having the baby “will be like having a doll in my arms.” Appallingly, Sebastian Piñera, the President of Chile, commended the young girl’s “depth” and “maturity”  for wanting to have the child, while it is clear that he is far from understanding the “psychological truth of an 11-year-old-girl.”

Chile is one of six countries in the world that has an absolute national abortion ban, with no exception even for life, rape or incest. The case of Beatriz in El Salvador similarly sparked an international debate over abortion bans in a Latin American country. Part of our human rights work at Global Justice Center is to combat medical discrimination against women. Denial of an abortion in life-threatening cases or in cases of rape is cruel and inhumane, and a form of torture to girls and women. In life-threatening cases, it denies a woman’s essential right to life. Therefore, the Global Justice Center wrote and sent a letter to the Chilean Minister of Health, Jaime Mañalich Muxi, urging the Chilean government to allow doctors to perform a therapeutic and life-saving abortion on the 11-year old.

Each year, 47,000 preventable deaths result from unsafe abortions. This could be ameliorated by ensuring women’s access to safe abortion services. Yet, even the United States perpetuates this abomination by denying access to safe abortions for girls and women raped and impregnated in armed conflict. Under the Helms Amendment, the US places an abortion ban on all its humanitarian aid, even in pregnancies which result from brutal rape used as a weapon of war. For the young girls under age 18 who represent half of these rape victims, this means potentially fatal health risks, and in too many instances, drives them to risk unsafe abortions or take their own lives in desperation and despair at this injustice. The Global Justice Center works tirelessly to hold the United States to the standards set by International Humanitarian Law and ensure that we live in a world which values the lives of girls and women equal to those of boys and men.

Help us by donating to our work to save women’s lives.

European Parliament Pushes to Separate Aid to War Rape Victims from US Restrictions

European Parliament adopts second resolution urging humanitarian aid to be independent from US restrictions and ensure sexual violence survivors’ access to safe abortion.

The European Parliament adopted a resolution on June 13, 2013, on the post-2015 UN Millennium Development Goals in which it specifically urged that the provision of EU humanitarian aid that contributes to the MDGs should be effectively excluded from the restrictions on humanitarian aid imposed by the USA and other donors on abortion. The eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – which range from halving extreme poverty rates to promoting gender equality and promoting women’s empowerment, are agreed to by all countries and leading development institutions. However the implementation of these goals, in particular the reduction of maternal mortality is being jeopardized by the US who, despite unsafe abortion being a lead cause for maternal mortality, does not allow the use of humanitarian aid for abortion services in conflict zones.

The EP Resolution’s refers to the US “no-abortion” prohibition on humanitarian aid (section 31) and states:

31. Urges that the provision of EU humanitarian aid that contributes to the attainment of the MDGs and should effectively be excluded from the restrictions on humanitarian aid imposed by the USA or other donors, in particular by ensuring access to abortion for women and girls who are victims of rape in armed conflicts.

The US “no abortion” prohibition compromises all EU country level and European Commission funding, both for the medical treatment of victims of armed conflict and for ensuring enforcement of humanitarian law. EU countries donate to help victims of armed conflict through various ways, including through the UN, to groups like UNFPA or, to directly to groups working on the ground in conflict area. All these funds are commingled with US funds on the ground and thus compromised.

Click here to view the full resolution. 

Lessons from Beatriz: El Salvador & the Denial of Life-Saving Abortions Worldwide

“I don’t want to die,” Beatriz said.[1]

Beatriz is a 22-year-old Salvadoran woman who was recently denied the right to an abortion during her high-risk and potentially fatal pregnancy. Her court case has captured international attention, bringing to light the staunch anti-abortion policies of El Salvador and in other areas of Latin America, and around the world, even in life-threatening circumstances.

Beatriz suffers from lupus and other medical complications which worsened during her first pregnancy. Her doctors at the National Maternity Hospital claimed that with the progression of the 26-week pregnancy, Beatriz’s risk of hemorrhaging, kidney failure and maternal death would increase exponentially. Additionally, the fetus had a birth defect called anencephaly, in which a baby develops without parts of its brain and faces very little chance of survival. As a result, Beatriz sought an abortion for the sake of her health and the well-being of her young child at home that she must care for. The Government of El Salvador denied her an abortion despite her, her doctors’, and the international community’s entreaties. On May 29, El Salvador’s Supreme Court upheld the Government’s decision to deny her an abortion, based upon its reading of the country’s abortion ban, which was an “absolute impediment to authorize the practice of abortion.” The court claimed that “the rights of the mother cannot be privileged over those” of the fetus.[2]

After the Supreme Court’s ruling, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) promptly responded and demanded that the government “immediately adopt the necessary measures to protect the life, personal integrity and health” of Beatriz.[3] In addition, the IACHR held that “the Salvadoran State is obligated to ‘guarantee that the treating medical team has the … protection to fully exercise its function according to the decisions that, based on medical science, said medical team should adopt.’”[4] Such protection of medical personnel—granting them the freedom to make decisions based solely upon medical ethics rather than political considerations—guarantees better outcomes for female patients facing dangerous pregnancies, as it permits medical personnel to prioritize the patient’s welfare above all else. This mandate is also found under international humanitarian law, to protect doctors who provide life-saving abortions in humanitarian settings from prosecution under local criminal abortion laws.

On May 30, El Salvador’s Ministry of Health overrode the Supreme Court’s decision. María Isabel Rodríguez, the Salvadoran Minister of Health, announced that Beatriz would be allowed to end her pregnancy “at the first sign of danger” through an induced birth.[3] As a result, on June 3, Beatriz underwent a Cesarean section. Her daughter was born without a brain, and died five hours later.[5]While the decision of the Ministry of Health should be applauded for having saved the life of one woman, it does not do the necessary work of challenging El Salvador’s strict ban on abortion. The law must be changed so that other Salvadoran girls and women with dangerous pregnancies are not forced into the same suffering, uncertainty, and risk of death as Beatriz faced.

While many countries in Latin America, like Uruguay, Mexico City, Colombia, Brazil and Argentina have relaxed their highly conservative abortion laws, other nations including Chile and Nicaragua continue to maintain misogynistic and repressive restrictions on women’s reproductive rights.[6]Beatriz is one example of thousands of women across Latin America – and the world – who are denied access to safe abortions, even in cases of high risk pregnancies or pregnancies resulting from rape.

Shockingly, the United States, too, perpetuates this inhuman policy, by denying access to safe abortions for girls and women raped in war. This violates the Geneva Conventions and international humanitarian law (IHL).

Here’s how this US policy violates the Geneva Conventions: The 1973 Helms Amendment places a blanket abortion ban on all US humanitarian aid, even for girls and women who are brutally raped as a weapon of war, and those who face potentially fatal health risks.

The Global Justice Center sent a petition, and has organized a letter-writing campaign, to President Obama and continues to take action to ensure girls and women are guaranteed the nondiscriminatory medical care that is their absolute right under IHL. Bans on abortion maintain a society in which women and girls possess rights to health and life that are less than those of men and boys. It is clear that, as one of Beatriz’s lawyers, Victor Hugo Mata, said: “Justice here does not respect the rights of women.”[2] Action must be taken to change these oppressive policies in El Salvador, the United States and around the world.

[1]Zabludovsky, Karla. “A Salvadoran at Risk Tests Abortion Law.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 29 May 2013. Web. 04 June 2013. available at

[2]Palumbo, Gene and Karla Zabludovsky. “Salvadoran Court Denies Abortion to Ailing Woman.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 30 May 2013. Web. 04 June 2013. available at

[3]Zabludovsky, Karla. “WORLD BRIEFING | THE AMERICAS; El Salvador: Doctors Can Induce Birth to Save Woman, Official Says.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 31 May 2013. Web. 04 June 2013. available at

[4]Center for Justice and International Law, “Inter-American Court of Human Rights orders the Salvadoran State to interrupt the pregnancy of ‘Beatriz,’” May 30, 2013, available at

[5]Al Jazeera, “El Salvador abortion row baby dies,”June 4, 2013,

[6]Groll, Elias. “El Salvador’s ‘Beatriz’ and the Politics of Abortion in Latin America.”Web log post.Foreign Policy. Foreign Policy, 31 May 2013. Web. 2 June 2013. available at

Prof. Louise Doswald-Beck, Leading Expert on International Humanitarian Law, Calls on President Obama to End US Abortion Restrictions on Aid to War Rape Victims


April 16, 2013 [NEW YORK, NY]

The Global Justice Center (GJC) applauds the letter sent by Professor Louise Doswald-Beck to President Obama, urging him to lift US abortion restrictions on humanitarian aid for girls and women raped in armed conflict. Prof. Doswald-Beck is a former head of the Legal Division of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and co-author of the 2005 authoritative codification of the customary rules of international humanitarian law.

GJC is leading the August 12th Campaign, which aims to ensure that girls and women raped in armed conflict have access to safe abortions in humanitarian settings as a part of their rights under international humanitarian law. Lifting the US abortion restrictions is a critical component of our efforts, and Professor Doswald-Beck joins influential legal and human rights groups, Parliamentarians and global legal experts who support the Campaign.

GJC President Janet Benshoof states that “Professor Doswald-Beck's impeccable credentials as one of the world‟s leading authorities on international humanitarian law make her letter to the President on the illegality of the US abortion ban put on humanitarian aid a 'must read' for all of us who care about the role of the US overseas.”

Professor Doswald-Beck's letter details the ways in which omitting an abortion option from medical treatment for female war rape victims violates the protection and care guarantees of the Geneva Conventions and customary international humanitarian law:

The denial of abortion violates the medical care guarantees of international humanitarian law.The failure to provide abortions as part of medical care for girls and women raped in war violates the categorical care and protection guarantees of IHL, which are “unchanged since 1864.” These include the rights of the “wounded and sick” to all necessary medical care, as required by their condition, under common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

The denial of abortion violates the absolute prohibition on gender discrimination under international humanitarian law. The denial of abortions for girls and women impregnated as a result of war rape violates the IHL prohibition on “adverse distinction,” including discrimination based on gender, since boys and men raped in war receive all necessary medical care. Professor Doswald-Beck states that IHL, as well as human rights law, precludes using biological differences to justify less favorable treatment for women and that although the medical treatment for female victims of rape may be different from that of male victims of rape, under IHL, “the outcome for each gender” must be the same.

The denial of abortion constitutes torture and cruel treatment in violation of international humanitarian law. Given that pregnancy aggravates the serious, sometimes life-threatening, risks of the injuries from brutal rape perpetrated in armed conflict, the failure to provide abortion violates the prohibition against torture or cruel treatment under common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

Professor Doswald-Beck states that although the parties to a conflict have primary obligations to provide care, all states, including the US, have a duty to “respect and ensure respect” for IHL under common Article 1 of the Geneva Conventions, including in the provision of humanitarian aid to war victims. Accordingly, Professor Doswald-Beck urges President Obama to lift US abortion restrictions on humanitarian aid, which she describes as leading to a “thoroughly inhuman” situation.

Benshoof adds “The President should heed her call and that of thousands of others. This terrible and shocking US policy is killing some women impregnated by war rape and causing lifelong suffering for others. No girl surviving brutal rape in armed conflict should be forced to bear the child of her rapists-torturers. President Obama should be seeking ways to advance, not subvert, the rights of girls and women raped in war under the Geneva Conventions and customary international humanitarian law.”

Visit to learn more about the Global Justice Center's August 12th Campaign.


For further information or press inquiries, please contact Sarah Vaughan, Communications and Development Associate via e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by phone at 212-725-6530 Ext. 204.

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Letter to President Obama: United States Restrictions on Abortion Access Violates International Humanitarian Law

Louise Doswald-Beck, the former Head of the International Committee of the Red Cross' Legal Division (ICRC), former Director of the University Centre for International Humanitarian Law (CUDIH) and former Secretary General of the International Commission of Jurists wrote to President Obama on how the US abortion prohibition attached to humanitarian aid violates the rights of women and girls raped in armed conflict under IHL, and is a form of torture.

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Santa Barbara Women Lawyers' Letter to President Obama

March 11, 2013

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


Rape and forced pregnancy are frequently part of violent attacks intended to torture or even kill girls and women. Those who survive such rapes frequently suffer from life-long physical, psychological and social consequences. These consequences are amplified for those girls and women who become pregnant from the rapes. Girls and women who survive these attacks often lack access, funds or information to abortion- related services; thus denying them the full range of health care services.

All victims of armed conflict are entitled to receive complete, appropriate and non-discriminatory medical care. The United States abortion restrictions on humanitarian aid undermine the rights of survivors of rape in armed conflict to non-discriminatory medical care and should therefore be lifted.

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CSW 57: Commission on the Status of Women

This month is International Women’s Month! We are joining several groups tomorrow, March 7, at 12pmET to discuss abortion coverage restrictions and the consequences that it has on women. Follow #hydehurts and #helmshurts on twitter and join us in being a voice for many women around the world who are unable to speak out!

The Commission on the Status of Women is being held at the UN during these next two weeks, and GJC will be in attendance as a consultative member of the NGO working group on women, peace, and security. Janet Benshoof, GJC president, will be speaking on two panels to highlight the importance of ending violence against women in conflict.

The Global Justice Center is working diligently to advocate for gender inequality in conflict and post conflict situations. Our August 12th Campaign is challenging the routine denial of medical rights to war rape victims as a violation of the right to non-discriminatory medical care under the Geneva Conventions. Thousands of girls and women raped in armed conflict are routinely denied their rightful access to safe abortions, and we must put a stop to this. Furthermore, girls and women are raped daily to accomplish military objectives, including genocide. Rape is more effective and cost effective than any other unlawful weapon used in armed conflict today, yet it is routinely overlooked by the international community. GJC’s Rape as a Weapon of War project is working to ensure that states using this method of warfare are held accountable for their actions.

Stephanie Johanssen, legal counsel for European and UN affairs at GJC, has been working tirelessly on behalf of GJC as a member of the working group on women, peace, and security to monitor implementation of Security Council resolutions on the role and rights of women in conflict situations. GJC uses its consultative status with the United Nations to be a leading voice urging UN bodies to fulfill their obligations to act against fundamental law violations. The UN is the epicenter of global efforts to end impunity for perpetrators of war crimes, and gives GJC the ideal access point to strengthen the impact of our legal arguments.

Please support us in making a difference in the lives of thousands of women worldwide!

CSW 57: The Gap between Image and Reality

The 57th session of the Commission of the Status of Women (CSW) is over and the agreed conclusions have been adopted. Some delegations made reservations but did not block the adoption of the final draft. Every year, the CSW session also serves as a forum for UN member states to do a bit of PR for themselves. Words like “committed,” “dedicated,” “acknowledge,” and “affirm” are heard often and most countries have an interest to show the world how they are leaders when it comes to furthering women’s rights. However, all too often, these statements stand in stark contrast with a country’s foreign policy. The United States is one example.

In explaining the US position on the Agreed Conclusions of this year’s CSW, U.S. Deputy Representative to ECOSOC Terri Robl, said in a statement on March 15: “Reproductive rights and the full implementation of these international agreements are essential to the prevention, mitigation and elimination of violence against women and girls. The United States reaffirms our continuing commitment to protect and promote reproductive rights.” If the United States is committed to protect and protect women’s reproductive rights why not lament the Agreed Conclusion’s weak reference concerning the right to safe abortion access which was limited to national laws?

Because reality looks very different:

USAID administrative policy, formally adopted in 2008, contains no exception for abortions for rape or to save the life of the rape victim, and is, at least on paper, more restrictive than federal statutory requirements (including the Helms Amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act, which first placed abortion restrictions on foreign aid in 1973).

As the largest provider of humanitarian aid in the world and by funding most major humanitarian actors, the US is able to dominate the field of humanitarian aid with its no abortion policy and is responsible in large part for the global failure to provide the option of abortion to victims of war rape. Many have joined with the Global Justice Center to challenge this inhumane US policy as a violation of the rights of girls and women to non-discriminatory medical care under the Geneva Conventions.

CSW may be over, but the time is now for the US to live up to its rhetoric.

European Women Lawyers' Association

August 12, 2011

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

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Global Justice Center's Letter to President Obama

August 12, 2011

Letter sent to President Obama by the Global Justice Center 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 also signed by: Alliance for Justice; American Jewish World Service; Association for Women's Rights in Development; Center for Health and Gender Equity; Center for Women's Global Leadership; Center for Women Policy Studies; Consortium on Gender, Security and Human Rights; Engender, South Africa; Feminist Majority Foundation; Femmes Africa Solidarite; Gender Action; Global Network of Women Peacebuilders; International Federation of Women Lawyers; FIDA, Kenya; FIDA, Nigeria; Legal Momentum; National Organization for Women Foundation; Partners in Health; Physicians for Human Rights; Unione Degli Atei E Degli Agnostici; Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, U.S. Section; and V-Day.

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EngenderHealth's Letter to President Obama

August 18, 2011

Letter sent to President Obama by EngenderHealth 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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Network for Africa Letter to President Obama

June 13, 2012

Letter sent to President Obama by Network for Africa 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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UK Queen's Counsel Letter to President Obama

February 1, 2012

Letter sent to President Obama by a group of UK Queen's Counsel 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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