Senators Implore President Obama to Correct Improper Implementation of Helms Amendment, Reducing Barriers to Safe Abortion for Women and Girls in Conflict-Affected Regions

WASHINGTON, DC –(ENEWSPF)–October 22, 2015.  Today, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) joined U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) in a letter with 26 of their Senate colleagues urging President Obama to ensure the United States is adequately supporting the reproductive health needs for women and girls in conflict-affected zones by removing unnecessary barriers to safe abortion. This action is desperately needed because of the increased use of rape as a tool of warfare perpetrated by groups such as Boko Haram in Nigeria and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria and Iraq on women and girls, as detailed by The New York Times in “Boko Haram Militants Raped Hundreds of Female Captives in Nigeria” and “ISIS Enshrines a Theology of Rape.” The senators implored the President to improve efforts to support the reproductive healthcare needs of survivors of sexual assault in conflict-affected zones as a part of the United States’ strategy to combat these terror organizations.

“We write to express our deep concern for the reproductive health of women and girls who are kidnapped, enslaved, tortured, raped, and impregnated in conflict-affected zones worldwide,” the senators wrote. “Rape is increasingly used as a tool of warfare to destabilize communities, exert control over women and girls, and in some cases purposely impregnate them, as executed by Boko Haram in Nigeria and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in Syria and Iraq. Survivors are forced to carry pregnancies to full term because access to reproductive healthcare is not available following their assault. We cannot be bystanders to such gross violations of the human dignity of these women and girls.”  

In the letter, the senators requested three specific actions by President Obama:  

  1. Issue guidance to relevant government agencies, allowing them to support safe abortion services in at least the limited circumstances of rape, incest, or life endangerment to correct the overly constrained implementation of the Helms Amendment which serves as a critical barrier to safe abortion, particularly impacting women and girls fleeing conflict;
  2. Exercise existing authority to ensure policies on U.S. foreign aid do not stand in the way of women and girls fleeing conflict who seek abortion services, particularly in countries where abortion is permissible by local law; and
  3. Strengthen actions taken under the National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security implementation plan, as well as provide an assessment of how the relevant agencies are fulfilling their respective duties to provide access to the full range of reproductive healthcare.  

Joining Senators Durbin and Blumenthal as co-signers of the letter are U.S. Senators Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Cory A. Booker (D-N.J.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).  

The letter can be viewed in full here