Stand with women and girls raped in conflict

Combating factions have used and continue to use the rape of women and girls as a tool of war. This is true regardless of region, religion, culture, or time period.

In recent memory, conflicts in places as diverse as Afghanistan, Bosnia, Colombia, Guatemala, Myanmar, Kenya, and Rwanda included rape as a weapon of war and torture. Today, the international community is haunted by accounts of rape campaigns waged against girls and women in Iraq, Syria, and Nigeria.

{mosads}The overall mental and physical health impact of rape on girls and women is, in itself, a humanitarian disaster that must be addressed by global leaders. Add to that the U.S.-built barriers to comprehensive post-rape services, including compassionate abortion care, and we have a real moral crisis on our hands.

Far too many of these survivors become pregnant and find themselves facing limited options and resources. Some have attempted suicide, while others sought unsafe abortions outside of appropriate healthcare settings. This situation is unconscionable, and U.S. policy and President Obama bear some of the responsibility.

The Helms amendment is a decades-old provision that each president since it was enacted, including Obama, has incorrectly interpreted as a ban on all funding for abortion overseas. The text says the U.S. cannot pay for “abortion as a method of family planning.” It does not prohibit funding when the life of the woman is in danger, or in cases of rape or incest. Despite this distinction, lack of clarity around the implementation of Helms serves as a barrier to safe abortion services.

Ultimately, politicians must act to repeal Helms altogether. Until then, the president can – and must – act to ensure women and girls raped in conflict have access to safe abortion wherever possible. With one stroke of his pen, Obama can break barriers to post-rape care that includes access to abortion. With one stroke, the president can stand with women and girls raped in conflict.

This is a matter of justice, and for those of us who are religious, this is also a matter of faith. When it comes to girls and women who survive rape in conflict, our faith traditions are clear: we must act with compassion.

That’s why religious leaders are responding to this moral crisis by calling for executive action on behalf of women and girls raped in war. Compassion in this case means supporting access to the full range of post-rape health care options, including access to safe abortion.

Leaders of many faiths are calling on Obama to act with compassion and use his executive authority to show that the policies of the United States reflect the compassion of our people; and we do so not in spite of our faith, but because of it.

Obama can readily use his executive authority to ensure access to comprehensive health services, including safe abortion, for girls and women raped in conflict. Obama can also ensure that not only women overseas who survive rape, but also those who survive incest or whose lives are endangered by a pregnancy have access to the full range of health care, including safe abortions. 

We call on the president to use the plowshare of compassion that is in his hands. Mr. President: Change the way your administration interprets the Helms Amendment and stand with women and girls raped in conflict by supporting their access to safe abortion services.

Knox is president and CEO of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. Sippel is president of the Center for Health and Gender Equity.

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