This legislation means girls raped by ISIS can’t access safe abortion

Its time to raise awareness about Trump's new Helms Amendment and Global Gag Policy, which blocks the use of US aid for abortions of vulnerable women worldwide

Words by Hannah O’Neill

Three days into his presidency, and two days after the largest women’s rights march in history, Donald Trump reinstated an abortion policy that set the tone for his administration.

The Helms Amendment and Global Gag Rule, block the use of US foreign aid for abortions leaving NGOs unable to provide assistance or even advice to vulnerable women and girls across the globe. This has devastating consequences for millions of women because such a ban extends to all abortions, even in cases of rape, incest or life-endangering pregnancy.

 

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Brian Dixon, Senior Vice President for Government and Media at Population Connection Action Fund, says that Helms and the Gag rule are bad policies that are at best neutral, and at worst put the US government on the side of flawed health policy.

“It’s what we call bad law, poorly interpreted,” says Brian. “And it was never about good global health or good foreign policy – it was passed largely as a reaction to the US court decision that made abortion a constitutional right.”

“[Helms] was sort of a lashing out in anger,” Brian explains. His organization campaigns for women’s access to abortion and contraception, both in America and overseas. “We’d be having a different debate if it were tens of thousands of women dying as a result of unsafe abortion across this country every year. But that is what’s happening globally, and our law and our policy is not helping the situation.”

Since US foreign aid is typically the greatest source of funding for international NGOs and health providers, the policies force them to avoid providing sexual health services altogether. Akila Radhakrishan from the Global Justice Centre says that this is what’s known as a ‘chilling effect’.

The policies are deadly for women and girls raped in warzones. The Global Justice Centre highlights conflict-prone countries like the DRC, where 12% of women and girls have been raped at least once, and Rwanda, where between 250,000 and 500,00 women and girls were raped over the course of 100 days during the Rwandan Genocide in the 90s. In Darfur and Sudan, there were 238 cases of rape in 2014 alone.

Girls who are pregnant as a result of rape face risks from unsafe abortion, increased injuries from giving birth before their bodies are developed, and ostracisation by spouses and family.

“I think we need to hold American politicians accountable for the harm they’re causing around the world,” Brian says. “47,000 women die as a result of an unsafe abortion each year. We know that these policies don’t stop abortion, and those that do are bad ones to begin with. Both those approaches are misguided and counter productive.”

“We will definitely see an impact on services for women and girls raped in war,” says Akila, “We are working on unpacking exactly what that means since we haven’t seen them before.”

“So in reality does this mean that a girl kidnapped by an Islamist militant group like Boko Haram and systematically raped, who then became pregnant as a result, could not seek a safe abortion using US foreign aid money if she managed, miraculously, to escape?” I ask.

“Under the current policy, she would not” says Brian, “It’s more than crazy. It’s evil.”

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