Organizations Urge the President to Reinterpret Helms Amendment and Aid Nigerian Refugees
Catholics for Choice in partnership with the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE) launched a campaign last week in response to more than 200 girls raped and impregnated by Boko Haram members, urging President Obama to reinterpret the Helms Amendment to include abortion care.
Over 400 women and children who were kidnapped by Boko Haram were returned earlier this year, many of whom are pregnant as the result of rape. Organizations hoping to aid these women are calling on President Obama to sign an interpretation of Helms that could allow for foreign assistance in providing abortion care. The law currently says, "No foreign assistance funds may be used to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions." However, as abortion in the instance of rape, incest, or life endangerment is not a method of family planning or birth control, Catholics for Choice and CHANGE are urging the President to sign into effect an interpretation of Helms that would allow the girls in Nigeria, some of whom are very young, to access what could be life-saving abortion care.
While the Nigerian government has made abortion illegal except in the case of life endangerment, Nigerian officials signed the Maputo Protocol which demands "the right to abortion in cases of rape, incest, or where pregnancy would pose a danger to the woman's physical health, mental health, or life." Even so, there has not been U.S. pressure on the Nigerian government to act in accordance with the Maputo Protocol and allow for abortion in cases of war rape.
Sara Hutchinson Ratcliffe, domestic program director at Catholics for Choice said in a press conference on Friday, "This policy is a disgrace to who we are as Americans. The Obama administration knows this. Catholics for Choice and our partners have spent six and a half years pleading, prodding, but to no avail."
Other organizations have been struggling to get the President's attention as well. Last year, Rev. Harry Knox, CEO of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, stated that the Helms Amendment, "has been misused to deny compassionate abortion care to women and girls who face a pregnancy that results from rape." He also said it was the United States' "moral imperative" to provide abortion care.
The schoolgirls raped and impregnated by Boko Haram are running out of time to access safe abortions. Bea Arthur, a therapist and activist who often works with victims of sexual violence, warns of the long-lasting effects that denying a victim of violence can have. "Telling someone they can't have a choice extends that trauma and denies them their own humanity, integrity, and basic human self-respect," she says. Studies also indicate that women who are impregnated as a result of rape and bear children are especially vulnerable to mental health issues such as depression and post-traumatic stress. There is also a strong likelihood of these women experiencing severe negative psychological consequences from facing stigma or isolation within their communities.
Media Resources: GenderHealth.org Helms Amendment; MaputoProtocol.com 7/11/2013; NY Times 6/4/15; Catholics for Choice Press Release 6/4/15; Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice 12/9/14; Cosmopolitan Magazine 5/11/15; NCBI Report 4/8/15