Why We Need to #LiftTheBan on Abortion in War Zones

TRIGGER WARNING: Contains references to sexual violence

Being a girl in a country known as the “rape capital of the world” can be fraught with danger. In the latest issue of Ms., Akila Radhakrishnan of the Global Justice Center and attorney Kristina Kallas follow the story of a Congolese woman named Eva. When she was young, she was kidnapped en route to school, taken prisoner by armed rebels and gang-raped for more than two years. By the time she was 13, she was pregnant.

Eva survived the childbirth, but in a country with a staggering maternal mortality rate, she should have had the option of a safe abortion. Thanks to Bush-era U.S. policy, however, any organization receiving U.S. foreign aid is banned from using that aid to provide abortions, even for rape survivors like Eva.

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That’s why the Global Justice Center and the Feminist Majority Foundation mounted their respective August 12th Campaign and #LiftTheBan social media campaigns to put pressure on President Obama to lift abortion restrictions in war zones. Thousands of women and girls raped in conflict zones are denied their medical right to a safe abortion, putting the U.S. in violation of human rights laws and the Geneva Conventions.

Rape is often used systematically by soldiers as an instrument of war to terrorize and even change the ethnic makeup of a group of people. Victims who become pregnant are forced to risk their health and often their lives in carrying the pregnancy to term. An update to U.S. policy would provide the abortion care these girls and women are entitled to, but the Obama administration has yet to act. As a result, not a dime of the nearly $50 billion in U.S. foreign assistance doled out each year can be used for providing abortions or even counseling on abortion.

Despite the fact that the Helms Amendment is often misinterpreted as banning U.S. foreign assistance from funding abortions, the Obama administration can still issue an executive order to permit abortion funding in the case of life endangerment, rape or incest. Such a simple act could help save the lives of countless women and girls.

To participate in these needed campaigns, send a letter to President Obama here or tweet with the hashtag #LiftTheBan.

Photo courtesy of International Committee of the Red Cross via Creative Commons 2.0.


Associate editor of Ms. magazine