Editor’s Note: Jill Filipovic is a journalist based in Washington and the author of the book “The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness.” Follow her on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely her own. View more opinion articles on CNN.
The United Nations Security Council this week passed a resolution to combat sexual violence in war and conflict. It should have been a proud moment when leading nations finally took head-on action against an ongoing atrocity.
Instead it’s a shameful episode, because the United States profoundly undermined the resolution after threatening to veto it, over the Trump administration’s supposedly “pro-life” fixation on sexual and reproductive health.
It should be obvious: Rape as a weapon of war is evil, and needs not just condemnation, but action and support for prevention, treatment and healing.
The UN passed its resolution on rape in conflict, but only with crucial language stripped out.
According to reporting in the Guardian, the American mission to the UN objected to language that “urges United Nations entities and donors to provide nondiscriminatory and comprehensive health services, including sexual and reproductive health, psychosocial, legal and livelihood support and other multi-sectoral services for survivors of sexual violence, taking into account the specific needs of persons with disabilities.”
The United States, with help from China and Russia, also effectively defanged the resolution of one of its most important elements: A body that would have been tasked with monitoring atrocities and reporting them to UN monitors.
It’s bizarre and frankly cruel to oppose a resolution about rape by objecting to sexual and reproductive health care. Not to put too fine a point on it, but rape is a crime that directly impacts a woman’s sexual and reproductive health.
Rape can damage a woman’s sex organs. It can result in a sexually transmitted infection. It can result in an unwanted pregnancy – something that can compound a rape survivor’s trauma. Any standard of care for sexual violence survivors includes providing sexual and reproductive health resources.
For rape survivors who are able to get medical care within a few days of the attack, that means prophylaxis to prevent the transmission of HIV and other infections; emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy; an exam to gather evidence; treatment of any injuries; and psychological care.
For survivors who don’t receive care until much later, the standard of care includes treatment of infections and injuries, as well as psychological care (something that, in crisis settings, is in high demand and short supply). And yes, rape victims should also be entitled to end their pregnancies – something that is safe and legal in much of the world.
The previous version of the UN resolution didn’t mention the word “abortion,” but that’s what the Trump administration seems to have read into it. American abortion feuds aside, it is already US law that American taxpayer dollars cannot fund elective abortions overseas – but they can pay for procedures for rape victims. That doesn’t actually happen, to the detriment of a great many women. But this UN resolution – which is specifically about wartime rape victims – was squarely within the bounds of existing US law, even if you interpret it to include abortion care.
And that’s the sticking point: The American pro-life movement is exceptionally powerful behind the scenes, and has significant influence on the Republican Party – to the point where its interests override laws passed by Congress.
I’m a journalist who often covers this exact issue: access to reproductive health care in conflict and crisis zones. I’ve met women from the Eastern Congo to Colombia to Myanmar who have survived the unthinkable. Far too often, they didn’t have access to the care they needed. Among those who became pregnant, some were forced to give birth, and maintain deeply complicated feelings; for others, restrictions on their options didn’t prevent them from ending their pregnancies. It just made their choices much less safe.
This original resolution did not promise to give rape survivors abortion on demand; nor would it have the power to do so. It simply aimed to give women the basics: Sexual and reproductive health care for what is, inarguably and biologically, a sexual and reproductive violation. How shameful that the American government is in league with some of the world’s worst human rights abusers in asserting that, in the name of “life,” we won’t help the world’s most vulnerable rape victims recover.