President Obama: It Is a Moral Imperative to Help Women and Girls Raped in Conflict

Hundreds of people gathered at Union Square in New York City on May 3 to demand the release of some 230 schoolgirls abducted
Hundreds of people gathered at Union Square in New York City on May 3 to demand the release of some 230 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram insurgents in Nigeria. The government has come under severe criticism for failing to rescue the young women amid a wave of bombings and shootings by the nominally Ismanist rebels. The New York rally was part of an international day of action to rescue the girls, whose plight has gotten only sparse attention in the press

The world is a drastically unsafe place for women and girls. They are especially vulnerable in conflict zones, where terrorists kidnap, batter and rape them as a deliberate strategy of creating fear and destroying communities. Their vulnerability is compounded when they are often denied emergency contraception and abortion as part of U. S. foreign assistance if they become pregnant from sexual assault.

Mr. President, you have the power to change this in regard to U.S. assistance and it is a moral imperative that you do so.

From Iraq to Syria and, recently, to Colorado in the U.S. and in places too numerous to name, women and girls around the world already struggle against enormous threats and outright violence to obtain reproductive services. This is part of what Attorney General Loretta Lynch has rightly called "a crime against women" receiving health care, in regard to the recent mass shooting at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood.

This pattern of a "crime against women" is intensified in conflict zones when women and girls are denied reproductive services for pregnancy that results from violent sexual assault.

This must change, and, President Obama, I appeal to you to use your executive power to make this change.

It is essential that all possible U.S. foreign assistance, including "emergency contraception, safe and legal abortion services, including sexual and reproductive health access, and psychosocial support" (per a March 23 Report of the U.N. Secretary-General) be provided. This kind of assistance is crucial for women and girls to treat them and help them recover from the brutal and inhumane treatment they have received at the hands of ISIS and other extremist groups in these conflicts raging around the world. Rape has long-lasting physical and psycho-social effects, especially if a woman or girl gets pregnant from the sexual assaults and is forced to carry a pregnancy from rape to term.

This is a moral imperative, as what is being done to these women and girls violates any standards of moral law and religious values.

Kidnapped, raped, beaten, subjected to electric shock, forced into marriage, sold into sexual slavery and subjected to forced impregnation: This is what women and girls have endured from extremist groups according to Human Rights Watch.

I appeal to you, Mr. President, to use your authority to stand with these women and girls and take executive action to ensure that U.S. foreign assistance include emergency reproductive services, including abortion, for them.

Taking such action is an act of conscience in the face of the massive violations of women and girls by extremists. Rape and sexualized violence is epidemic in Iraq, Syria, in the Congo and in many other conflict zones. This is an ISIS pattern, but certainly not confined to that group. In Syria, Assad forces have long committed violence against women in detention and at checkpoints.

Mr. President, you have called sexual assault an affront to our basic decency and humanity. This is correct, and when forced pregnancy results from sexual assault, you can act to help women and girls recover their dignity by taking back control of their own bodies and making their own decisions about pregnancy.

The Helms Amendment (1973) does not prohibit providing reproductive services, including abortion, in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. The only prohibition is for using abortion "as a method of family planning."

No one could call vicious sexual assault and forced impregnation "family planning." That is an insult to these women and girls. That isn't "family planning," mass rape in war is actually a war crime. But yet, these women and girls are denied this help by U.S. policy, even when carrying a pregnancy to term for young girls can be life-threatening.

Mr. President, we know you to be a person of conscience and of faith. Conscience, as our moral sense, demands that you take this action to extend U.S. assistance to these women and girls through provision of emergency contraception and abortion.

We often hear more about conscience from those who oppose abortion and even contraception, but in the case of women and girls raped in war and forcibly impregnated, the conscience imperative is clearly to help them with emergency contraceptive and abortion services.

Conscience is not only inward and individual, but is also directed toward creating a more just and equitable world. It is important to emphasize this aspect of conscience, and therefore struggle, with moral reflection on the question, "What is it right to do that provides the most good especially when massive wrong has taken place?" Caring for others and not just for oneself or one's kind is, of course, a universal value found in both religious and humanist writings.

We must care about the good that can come from helping women and girls heal from the trauma of rape in conflict.

Mr. President, I implore you to act on this moral imperative.

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