It's Time for America to Stand with Survivors of Rape

In today's overly-complicated world there are very few problems that can be solved with the stroke of a pen. But what if I told you that the next U.S. president could on day one -- January 20, 2017 -- help tens of thousands of women and girls in the developing world who have been raped by doing just that?

Since its passage in 1973, the Helms Amendment has been grossly misinterpreted to prevent U.S. funds from being used to provide safe abortions for rape survivors in the world's poorest countries, even in the case of incest or a life-threatening pregnancy and despite whether local laws allow for those exceptions.

The legislation clearly states that foreign assistance funds cannot be used to provide abortions "as a method of family planning," but the Helms Amendment has been enforced -- for as long as anyone can remember -- as an outright ban.

Meaning, unless and until a U.S. president picks up a pen to clarify this misconstrued policy, women and girls in conflict-ridden regions who have been raped and impregnated by monstrous men and terrorist groups, like ISIS and Boko Haram, will have their abortion care options limited.

America's foreign policy, through the distortion of this law, is telling these traumatized survivors (some of whom are adolescents and all of whom could die in childbirth) that the U.S. government would rather they risk death, suffer unsafe abortions, or bear the pain of giving birth to their attackers' children, than use funds to safely terminate pregnancies that are the result of horrific circumstances.

But, unfortunately, that's not all. The misapplication of the Helms Amendment also makes it difficult for U.S.-funded health organizations to help women and girls deal with the aftermath of unsafe abortions. Why, you ask? Because these organizations are barred from using foreign assistance funds to buy the tools and medications that could save women's lives after botched abortions since those same tools and medications could be used to perform safe abortions. And it's a downright shame.

Already, roughly 47,000 women die every year as a result of unsafe abortions. Thousands more are forced to deliver the babies of rapists--terrorists, soldiers, or relatives. And the last thing they need is for the U.S. to erect barriers to what should be basic health care.

Can you imagine what this means for a girl in Syria or Iraq, where rape is being used as a weapon of war? Even if she manages to flee her crumbling, war-torn country for the relative safety of a refugee camp in neighboring Jordan or Lebanon, she may still have no choice but to risk her life giving birth to her rapist's baby, all due to the mishandling of an outdated U.S. policy. It's not only appalling; it's heartbreakingly demeaning.

There is no one in the world who is more deserving of our country's help than the woman who has escaped the clutches of a demented terrorist, the girl who has been married off to a man three times her age, or the niece whose uncle ignores the sanctity of blood ties. America's foreign policy should not be telling these women and girls, "You are on your own." It should be telling them, "We stand with you."

That is why we are calling on Trump, Sanders, Rubio, Clinton, and all of the other 2016 presidential candidates to tell the nation whether or not, on day one in the White House, they are going to take a stand for rape survivors in the developing world by clarifying the Helms Amendment.

The American people deserve to know if the person they're going to elect to be the next president of the United States will turn a blind eye to the abuse of women and girls overseas or pick up that pen and erase over four decades of injustice.

Empowering women and providing the most vulnerable people around the world with access to comprehensive health services -- including access to safe abortions -- should be a proud cornerstone of American foreign policy and assistance, not a shameful deviation.