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What Is The Law? Armed Conflict and Abortion Services

Women’s bodies have become part of the modern battlefield, where use of rape as a weapon of war shatters lives and decimates communities. Women and girls face life-threatening pregnancies arising from serious physical injury, risk of suicide, and the incapability of many young girls’ bodies to safely carry a baby to term.

As a legal matter, armed conflict is a specific type of humanitarian setting, governed by a specific area of law—international humanitarian law (IHL). IHL ensures these victims receive the medical care they need by protecting them with rights. In cases of pregnancy, these rights require the option of abortion services. Indeed, abortion has been recognized as part of IHL’s protections by the UK, France, the Netherlands, the European Union, the UN Secretary-General, the UN Security Council in Resolutions 2106 and 2122, and the UN Global Study on the Implementation of Security Council Resolution 1325.

As a matter of practice, many humanitarian donors and actors use a “needs-based” model—administering medical care to meet patients’ needs without regard to the legal framework. In light of reinvigorated global assaults on reproductive health, it is essential that needs-based approaches are bolstered by the strong rights based protections embedded in IHL. Humanitarian actors, advocates and donors must ensure that their work and policies are grounded in victims’ rights so that victims’ needs are comprehensively met.

This factsheet outlines IHL’s various provisions that protect abortion services for female victims of conflict.

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