Failing Victims Across the Globe
Congress has let an anti-human trafficking bill get bogged down in abortion politics.
Not getting the job done.
By Peter Fenn March 20, 2015 | 12:05 p.m. EDT + More
The Senate voted for a fifth time on Thursday to prevent a bill that was supposed to be non-controversial from being passed. I know, something new and different when it comes to Congress. But this legislation – the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act – was designed to deal with the critical issue of human trafficking.
This effort to help those who have been harmed by sex trafficking – raped, abused and held captive – was supported by a bipartisan coalition. That is, until some Republicans slipped in anti-abortion language at the last minute that undermined the legislation.
The Hyde Amendment already prohibits federal funds from being used for abortions except in the cases of rape, incest and to save the woman’s life. But this new language would prohibit other funds from fines from being used and also make it increasingly difficult to treat women who have been raped multiple times. For some of these women, the burden of proof could be shifted. Some courts and judges just may not trust women in these circumstances.
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So, bottom line, we already have the Hyde Amendment in place (sadly for some of us) and there is no need to jeopardize this excellent piece of legislation at the last moment.
But this brings up another very important issue when it comes to women abused and raped, especially in conflict situations. Rape has been used as a weapon of war across the globe, from Bosnia to Syria, from the Democratic Republic of Congo to the latest acts of terror by the Islamic State group. Women and girls are the targets of horrific acts designed to strike fear and intimidate whole societies during wartime. The actions are barbaric and have raised the conscience of people across the globe.
Sadly, not enough is being done to provide comprehensive health care to these women. The U.N. Secretary General, in a 34-page report, states the following: “In line with Security Council resolution 2122 (2013), I call on all actors to support improved access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services in conflict-affected settings. This must include access to HIV counseling and testing, which remains limited in many settings, and the safe termination of pregnancies for survivors of conflict-related rape.”
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Right now, the United States government has failed these women and girls. A 40-year-old law known as the Helms Amendment, named after the late Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., states that “no foreign assistance funds shall be used to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning.” Clearly, rape, incest and saving the woman’s life are not family planning. Thus, even a proper interpretation of the Helms Amendment would still allow the U.S. to provide comprehensive health care, including voluntary abortions, in the cases of rape.
All it would take is executive action by the president to properly interpret this amendment and we could stand with many other nations around the world who are combating violence against women and providing vital services.
President Barack Obama should act. In September, he told the U.N. General Assembly, “Mothers, sisters, daughters have been subjected to rape as a weapon of war.” Now is the time for him to help these women.