Abducted women and girls are escaping Boko Haram. Many are pregnant. Some are exploiting the situation to bring back federally funded abortions overseas.
Last year’s brazen abduction of hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls by the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram sparked the #BringBackOurGirls campaign and ignited outrage on social media. Almost all of the kidnapped schoolgirls from the town of Chibok remain captives today, but other Boko Haram victims are escaping, emerging from the forests of northeastern Nigeria traumatized and, in some cases, impregnated by their former captors.
The victims are being met with medical care and assistance from an assortment of NGOs, but now a group of U.S. Religious Left officials are calling for the Obama Administration to end a ban on taxpayer-funded abortions in order to terminate the pregnancies.
“Now as women in Syria, Iraq, Nigeria and many other un-named places have been subjected to systematic sexual abuse, rape and forced marriages, religious leaders in the United States are responding to the moral imperative of our faith traditions by calling for action on behalf of women and girls raped in war,” the Rev. Harry Knox, President of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC), a group that advocates for unrestricted abortion.
RCRC has long received most of its financial support from secular philanthropies that seek to expand access to abortion, but the group counts denominations like the Episcopal Church and unofficial church caucus groups like Catholics for Choice among its affiliates, all providing a veneer of religious approval for abortion-on-demand.
Knox spoke at the gathering in early June of a handful of religious officials held at St. John’s Episcopal Church across Lafayette Park from the White House. The coalition of liberal Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Unitarian figures was by RCRC and a group called the Center for Health and Gender Equality calling for the Obama Administration to reinterpret the 1973 Helms Amendment, introduced by the late U.S. Senator from North Carolina, which prohibits the use of federal funds for abortion overseas.
As The New York Times noted in its coverage of the event, some of the groups represented, like the Central Conference of American Rabbis, are large. Others, like one calling itself Muslims for Progressive Values, are small.
“Anti-life forces have been pushing for a couple of years to undermine the Helms amendment,” notes William L. Saunders, Senior Vice President and Senior Counsel at Americans United for Life. “I think they are trying to get all they can while there is still an anti-life president in the White House. I hope President Obama would not give them what they want, but anti-lifers keep pushing to export their views and incorporate them into U.S. foreign policy. Pro-lifers will have to stay vigilant.”
Medical treatment and prenatal care for the women rescued from Boko Haram captivity isn’t enough, according to some voices that abortion isn’t being offered or discussed. (Elective abortion is illegal in Nigeria, as in many African nations, but widely practiced.)
The disagreement hinges on whether the Helms amendment prohibits funding for abortions in general, or just for “family planning” purposes. In asking the Administration to change its interpretation to allow funding for some abortions, groups like RCRC and its benefactors hope to skip past a legislative repeal of the Amendment, something that would be unlikely in the present Republican-led Congress.
Abortion continues to be intensely divisive here in the United States, but the Helms Amendment remains popular. Most Americans have never favored using public funds for abortions. According to a 2014 CNN , 56 percent are opposed, with only 39 percent favoring public funding for abortions. A more recent Marist taken in January reports that Americans oppose such funding by a margin of 68 percent to 28 percent, with millennials opposing it by 71 percent to 28 percent. Other polls have similarly reported majority opposition to taxpayer funded abortions.
RCRC and its supporters may even be acknowledging their disadvantage, with one participant at the event, the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, a former president of the Interfaith Alliance, insisting that he personally opposes abortion but chose to attend because raped and impregnated women deserve a choice.
It’s wrong, he said, “to abuse a woman, turn her into a tool of war and then force that woman to carry the scars and a child that is a constant reminder of her abuse and devastation,” Gaddy told Religion News Service.
The Baptist pastor then qualified his statement, saying that he doesn’t want to pressure others to support U.S. funding for abortions if it runs contrary to their religious convictions. But then he reiterated his original position. “We have a responsibility as caring people to not put a woman through a psychological, biological horror that can be avoided,” he commented, apparently believing that bearing a child, not the act of getting raped in wartime, was the source of horror to be avoided.
RCRC and the secular funders that back it will continue to look for ways to promote abortion, and as long as the nightmare of wartime rape persists in many parts of the world, they can be expected to leverage that horror to weaken U.S. policy protections on life. Expect to hear more about the Helms Amendment in coming months.