Instruments of oppression

One of the things we’re not allowed to talk about is that we could deal with global warming simply by encouraging people to limit themselves to two children. (I think you all know why.)

But look what we’re doing to rape victims in other countries:

This isn’t a situation where Congress has prevented the administration from acting. In fact, the solution is shockingly simple. The text of the Helms amendment only states that no U.S. foreign assistance money “may be used to pay for the performance of abortions as a method of family planning.” Atwood says that “most legal scholars who have looked at this issue say it’s a wildly exaggerated interpretation of that law” to apply it to cases of rape, incest or life endangerment. Obama could simply issue an executive order clarifying that the law has exceptions—the same exceptions that already exist domestically—or he could publicly direct the head of the USAID to start writing the exceptions into its contracts.

In August, 81 Democrats in Congress wrote urging Obama to take this step. A group of 28 senators followed suit in October with a strongly worded letter about women raped in conflict. “We cannot be bystanders to such gross violations of the human dignity of these women and girls,” the letter read. “If the U.S. does not work to increase access to reproductive healthcare for vulnerable populations, particularly safe abortion services, there will be negative, long-term consequences.” And in November, Hillary Clinton was asked about the issue at an Iowa town hall. She didn’t commit to revising the interpretation of Helms if she were elected president, but said, “I do think we have to take a look at this for conflict zones.”

So far, though, the Obama administration has been unwilling to change the policy. Until that happens, women who are raped and become pregnant in developing countries and conflict zones are often unable to get a safe abortion. To understand what this means for a rape victim, how U.S. policy can warp an entire country’s health system and the course of a woman’s life, the best place to begin is Kenya.