Rev. Harry Knox, president and chief executive officer, The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) is joined by faith leaders and human rights advocates at a press conference across the street from the White House to call on President Obama to take executive action on access to safe abortion for women and girls raped in conflict.
Photo Credit: John Nelson Photography
By Serra Sippel, president, the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE)
On June 4, faith leaders and human rights advocates from around the world gathered at St. John’s Episcopal Church, across the street from the White House, to call on President Obama to stand with women and girls raped in conflict. We called on him to take immediate action in ensuring access to abortion for women and girls around the world.
Right now, across the globe, too many women and girls who are raped, who survive incest, or whose lives are in danger from a pregnancy are being denied access to safe abortion care because the U.S. government has failed to correctly implement a law called the Helms amendment. While the law prohibits U.S. funds from paying for abortions overseas as a method of family planning, the law does not prohibit U.S. support for abortion in these cases. Despite this distinction, no administration – not even the Obama administration – has ever implemented the law correctly.
President Obama can break these barriers to care by taking executive action and make it clear that it is the policy of the U.S. government to support access to abortion overseas for women and girls in the cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment.
Anything less is unconscionable.
President Obama could take executive action on Helms today. And yet, he does not act.
We know that, at this moment, rape is being used as a weapon of war globally. Nigerian women abducted by Boko Haram are being subjected to forced marriage and rape. And they are becoming pregnant. We know that women and girls across Iraq are being raped by ISIS. And they are becoming pregnant. Women and girls who escape captivity and who choose to terminate their pregnancies should have every humanitarian assistance option available to them. The U.S. could be leading the way to break barriers to care. And yet, it hasn’t.
During a primetime address to the nation and speech at the United Nations last fall, President Obama acknowledged ISIS’ use of rape as a weapon of war. Earlier this year, at the National Prayer Breakfast, he again decried ISIS’ horrific violation of women and girls.
During the June 4 event, faith leaders called access to safe abortion a “vital component” of post-rape care. They noted that President Obama has spoken compassionately about women and girls raped in conflict but has failed to act on that compassion.
And still, women and girls globally wait.
Public support for executive action is clear and overwhelming. In the last year alone, former USAID Administrator Brian Atwood called on President Obama to act; two Nobel Peace laureates urged him to act; more than 30 leaders of U.S. faith-based organizations called on President Obama to act; and U.S. and international organizations hosted a rally in front of the White House calling on President Obama to act.
In December, The New York Times wrote its fourth editorial since 2011 calling on President Obama to act and just two weeks ago The Washington Post called on President Obama to act on Helms and to listen to the message of the faith leaders.
While ultimately we want to see Helms repealed, we must do all we can now to ensure access to care for women and girls. The continued misapplication of Helms, the continued denial of comprehensive care – including abortion – for women and girls is unacceptable and it’s immoral.
Support for executive action is strong and it is clear.
President Obama, the time to act is now.