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Dispatches: US Gives Brushoff to Women and Girls Raped in War

Dispatches: US Gives Brushoff to Women and Girls Raped in War

The United States plays a critical role in protecting the human rights of women and girls affected by war by raising concerns internationally and funding programs that aid sexual violence survivors. But – and it’s a very big but – the 1973 Helms amendment to the US Foreign Assistance Act undermines much of this important work. Yesterday, instead of choosing to reinterpret the amendment in a manner protective of women’s rights, the US government said it will stand by the law, as is.

It’s a reality that some women and girls subjected to rape in conflict become pregnant by their perpetrators. Healthcare providers funded by the US are limited in how they can help these rape survivors because the Helms amendment prohibits the use of US funding for abortion “as a method of family planning.” This has been interpreted to prohibit abortion even in the case of rape.

Concerns about the detrimental impact of the Helms amendment on rape in conflict are regularly raised by humanitarian organizations, including by the service providers who struggle to give rape survivors the care they need.

Governments at the United Nations Human Rights Council recently raised this concern during the review of the US human rights record. The Netherlands, United Kingdom, and Belgium, among others, encouraged the US to clarify that the Helms amendment, in its implementation, should recognize that women and girls raped in conflict are not seeking to use abortions as family planning. This would allow US funding to support a comprehensive package of health care for women and girls in the aftermath of wartime rape, including abortions for those who need or choose this option.

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