Many organizations and individuals are becoming more vocal against the Helms Amendment. Passed by a conservative Congress in 1973 as a reactionary measure against the landmark court case, Roe v. Wade, the Helms Amendment denies women in countries receiving American aid the ability to get abortions with government money.

This amendment has received flack from both liberals and conservatives due to the denial of safe abortion options for women who are victims of rape during war. The opposition has grown a lot of steam world wide.

Before President Obama touched down in Kenya last week, the Kenyan government tore down a billboard that seemed to be politically motivated. According to reports, the billboard implored President Obama to utilize his executive action to help women who are victims of rape in developing countries.

After the Kenyan government took the billboard down, many were upset. Perhaps the government wanted Obama’s trip to his father’s country to be pleasurable and void of political dissonance.

Obama is not just receiving pressure to revoke the amendment abroad, but also at home.

Before his trip to Kenya, 70 U.S. non-government organizations called for Obama to visit health clinics in Kenya that attend to women’s’ health so that he can see for himself what the amendment is causing.

At the “Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice” in June, religious leaders requested that Obama use swift action to revoke the amendment. The support to revoke the amendment is not just from leaders, but from the majority of the American public.

BuzzFeed reported that 81 percent of people support a woman’s right to have access to an abortion in the case of rape or for the safety of the mother. Although this poll shows people’s views domestically, they can translate to the global stage.

Women living in countries rampant with a gang and terrorist violence are subject to rape. Because of the lack of protection the perpetrators have, the victims are oftentimes subject to sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy.

Due to rape being a tool of war, many from both sides express their disdain for the harsh bill. Perhaps the president will one day voice his opposition.

Erin Logan

Sources: The Daily Beast, Buzzfeed 1, Gender Health, Buzzfeed 2
Photo: Woman Under Seige Project

In Pakistan, honor killings are frequent enough to the point that over 1,000 women die every year at the hands of their families and loved ones. Why? These women wanted to choose the person they marry. On May 27, a 25-year-old pregnant woman named Farzana Parveen was killed on the court steps.

Among Parveen’s attackers were her father, brothers and former fiancé, all throwing bricks at her as she fell to the ground. In Pakistan, it has always been thought to be dishonorable for a woman to marry a man of her choosing. This act shames her family and takes away her right to love her husband.

This is not absurdly uncommon in Pakistan. Parveen is not the first woman to die for her choices. Most often these honor killings happen when the woman decides against following the rules presented to her and engages in extramarital affairs, or in Parveen’s case, secretly marrying a different man.

Due to this, very few of these cases reach court and are typically dismissed if the victim’s family forgives the killer. In Parveen’s case, these two parties are the same people so it is unlikely that further action will occur.

For centuries, women have been the lesser gender in countries such as Pakistan. This sexual inequality still plagues many nations today, and little is being done to rectify the many wrongs committed against women. It is unheard of for a woman to make her own choice of husband and rebellion against that has dire consequences. The Aurat Foundation has compiled police reports, citing around 1,000 cases drawn from newspaper reports. However, it is highly likely that the number is much higher than recorded due to the lack of reporting and national statistics.

Groups like Aurat are human rights organizations that fight for legislation in Pakistan to improve the lives of women and of the poor.

Pakistan’s legal system does little to stop this abuse, because families will pick one member to do the killing and then forgive them, setting them free while following Pakistani law. This flaw leads to no fear of consequence with the killing, therefore discouraging women from speaking out against the injustice.

Most often, victims of these honor killings—like Farzana Parveen—are women from lower income families and have little means to leave their family so they become entrenched in the expected lifestyle, marrying the men presented to them with no argument.

Due to the situation of Pakistan and their ongoing fights with women’s rights, it is unlikely these events will come to an end without any international attention or rebellion within. For such ingrained behaviors, changing them will take time and widespread advocacy for those who suffer.

– Elena Lopez

Sources: Reuters, Tribune, Washington Post
Photo: The Guardian

January 22 marked the 41-year anniversary of the groundbreaking but controversial case Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion.

Customarily, the March for Life took place this Wednesday, where pro-lifers who have been working to rid of the law since first enacted 41 years ago, protested in Washington. This year’s march took a different approach, as it focused less on portraying horrifying graphics to inflict guilt and concentrated more on adoption services as the alternative for an unwanted pregnancy.

Supporters of Roe v. Wade were present in Washington as well, holding signs that read, “Keep Abortion Legal” in rebuttal to the March for Life protests.

United States President Barack Obama released a statement upholding the message of Roe v. Wade and promised to stay committed to the “guiding principle: that every woman should be able to make her own choices about her body and her health.”

Obama added, “We reaffirm our steadfast commitment to protecting a woman’s access to safe, affordable health care and her constitutional right to privacy, including the right to the reproductive freedom… And we resolve to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies, support maternal and child health, and continue to build safe and healthy communities for all our children. Because this is a country where everyone deserves the same freedom and opportunities to fulfill their dreams.”

Since Roe v. Wade was enacted, changes to the laws have made it more difficult for women to seek abortions, and now more than ever battles are being fought mostly at the state level. The support of the Obama administration is crucial to protecting women’s reproductive rights overall; however, women are still struggling to obtain safe abortions or any reproductive healthcare for that matter due to limitations passed over the past couple of years.

As per information provided by Guttmacher Institute, an innovative foundation that supports and campaigns for easy access to reproductive healthcare, 22 states added roughly 70 restrictions on abortions in 2013. Over the past three years, approximately 200 restrictions have been added in total, which consequently obstructs women from obtaining abortions. Some women have to drive hundreds of miles to find a doctor who will even discuss the matter.

Elizabeth Nash from the Guttmacher Institute has said, “There has really been a tidal wave over the last three years. If it is not the worst, it is the worst we have seen in a very long time.” Because of constraints enacted over the past couple of years, 54 abortion clinics have closed down completely as well.

Younger generations that take a pro-choice stance keep the message of Roe v. Wade alive and support women’s right to choose as they protest against the new constraints. Recently, Texas State Senator Wendy Davis filibustered for 11 hours in order to stop a threatening anti-women’s health bill, and many people packed the Texas State Capitol to support her.

The passing of the Affordable Care Act should bring about changes in favor of women’s reproductive health and support the message of Roe v. Wade. There are clauses written in the law that do not allow insurance companies to charge women more money due to their gender and involve not charging co-pays for cancer screenings and STD testing.

The 41-year anniversary of Roe v. Wade is a divisive time that splits Americans into a pro-life or pro-choice identity. To some, it celebrates an important movement for women’s rights, but to others it represents the continuous battle to outlaw abortion. Upcoming votes within the courts coupled with new laws outlined in the Affordable Care Act will dictate the direction that Roe v. Wade is headed.

– Danielle Warren

Sources: Huffington Post, New York Times, US News
Photo: The World On Politics

Imprisoned for Miscarrying
Last month in El Salvador, a judge sentenced 19 year-old Glenda Xiomara Cruz to prison for 10 years. Her crime? Miscarrying.

In October of 2012, Xiomara, experiencing excruciating abdominal pain and bleeding, sought medical treatment at a public hospital. Unaware that she was even pregnant, as she’d experienced no weight gain and a pregnancy test had come back negative, doctors told her she’d lost a baby. Four days later, the teenager had been reported by the hospital to the police for suspected abortion and charged with aggravated murder. A year later, she’s been sentenced to ten years in prison by a judge who told her “she should have saved her baby’s life.”

Xiomara’s unfortunate fate is the result of El Salvador’s strict abortion law. The law is so strict, in fact, that since 1998 abortions have been completely banned without any exception, even in cases of rape, fetal deformity, or if the mother’s life is at risk.

Twenty-eight year-old Maria Teresa Rivera’s story parallels Xiomara’s and further illustrates the tragic consequences of such a harsh law. Last year, she too sought medical treatment for bleeding and abdominal pain and was reported to authorities by the hospital after suffering a miscarriage. Teresa was sentenced to 40 years in prison for aggravated murder. A textile worker and her family’s main provider, going to jail meant leaving her eight year-old son in extreme poverty.

A study done by the Citizens’ Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion supports the statement that this law overwhelmingly affects those living in poverty. The study found that, since 2000, more than 200 women have been reported to the police on abortion charges — the vast majority of these women were poor, unmarried and with little education. Comparatively, not a single woman has been reported from the richer private healthcare sector — where abortions are believed to be performed regularly.

More than unfairly imprisoning women and tearing apart families, the law also has devastating consequences for women’s health. Bessy Ramirez of San Salvador enunciates one of the numerous harmful effects of the law: “I would be terrified to go a public hospital as there is no benefit of doubt given to young women, we are presumed guilty and jailed.” For poor women, however, public hospitals represent their only medical treatment option.

In addition to deterring women from seeking medical treatment, the law likely also has a role in boosting the occurrences of suicide. Health Ministry figures from 2011 identify suicide as the most common cause of death for 10-19 year-old girls; half of these girls were pregnant. Further, because it is illegal for women to terminate pregnancies even in cases where the mother’s health is threatened, the inability to treat pregnancy complications is the third most common cause of maternal mortality.

Amnesty International’s El Salvador expert Esther Major calls the abortion law “cruel and discriminatory” saying that “women and girls end up in prison for being unwilling, or simply tragically unable, to carry the pregnancy to term. It makes seeking hospital treatment for complications during pregnancy, including a miscarriage, a dangerous lottery.” Unfortunately, as in innumerable other instances, it’s a lottery women in poverty are most likely to lose.

– Kelley Calkins

Sources: BCC, Slate

Photo: Vice

Poorest Region in Latin America
The National Assembly of Ecuador will address major changes in the criminal code in the next few days, one of which is a major topic of contention: the proposal to lift penalties for abortion in instances of rape. The change would overturn years of prohibitive law in regards to abortion—regulations that persist even in circumstances of sexual violence. Clearly, the success of such a reform would be a major victory for Ecuador’s women.

Before the reform, women in Ecuador faced stringent penalties for abortion, including prison terms of up to five years. In order to avoid such consequences, many women in Ecuador have turned to illegal—and too often unsafe—abortion practitioners, leading to a variety of health risks. In 2011, at least 10 Ecuadorian women died from such practices, but these numbers are difficult to really track down.

As Amanda Klasing, a women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch elucidated: “A woman or girl who has suffered the trauma of rape shouldn’t have to face the prospect of going to jail if she chooses to get an abortion. Criminalizing abortion for rape victims not only violates women’s and girls’ rights, it may put their health or even their lives at risk.”

In a country where gender-based violence is high–26 percent of women in a government-conducted survey reported some experience of sexual violence–, reform to abortion policies is key. Until these penalties are removed, women in Ecuador will continue to be stripped of their rights.

As Klasing concluded: “Women who are victims of rape should not then be made victims of the government when they choose to terminate pregnancies. Ecuador’s lawmakers should seize the opportunity of criminal code reform to remove the dangerous restrictions on abortion, in particular after sexual violence.”

– Anna Purcell

Sources: Human Rights Watch , Reuters