Delivering America's Promise to Women Who Are Raped in War and Conflict

This year, the theme for International Women's Day is an urgent call to action: "A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women."

In a presidential memorandum on January 30, 2013, President Obama promised to advance the status of women and gender equality globally through implementation of U.S. foreign policies that seek to codify that promise. His leading example was the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security.

Now is the time to turn this promise to action.

Through the National Action Plan, the U.S. pledges to defend women from violence, to prevent conflict in the first place -- and notably -- to "provide support for survivors of conflict, torture, and sexual violence... through direct services, including sexual and reproductive healthcare." It shouldn't be surprising the plan includes access to sexual and reproductive health care. Threats to women's sexual and reproductive health are among the most dire consequences of war rape. Survivors often face HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy, traumatic fistula, and other severe damage to internal organs.

A woman's right to dignity and bodily integrity is violated when she is raped in war and torture. Women must have access to services that may restore -- if only slightly -- her health and bodily integrity. Of particular importance is access to reproductive health services such as emergency contraception, post-exposure prophylaxis, and safe abortion -- all are critical to a woman's physical health, mental well-being, and restoration of her rights.

The Action Plan acknowledges the needs of women who have survived conflict in a way the U.S. has never done before. This could be a game-changer for women worldwide -- if it is implemented fully, with full attention to the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls.

Up until now, U.S. politics have blocked full attention to the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls who are raped during war and conflict by denying them access to abortion services. There are hopeful signs that this is changing -- the Action Plan, combined with U.S. voters' rejection of restrictions on the reproductive rights of rape victims, promises a way forward. Denying access to healing services to those who have suffered so much is almost universally acknowledged as inhumane, and politics have no business standing in the way.

Now we need the political courage and will for full implementation of the Plan that includes provision of and access to the full range of sexual and reproductive health services that women raped need and deserve -- and that includes safe abortion services.

Now is the time for the administration to move from promise to action.