01/22/2013 02:26 pm ET Updated Mar 24, 2013

Searching for the Soul of Politics 40 Years After Roe

When I first learned about war rape and torture, it struck me like a heavyweight hit. It was not something I read in a newspaper or text book. It was the story of someone I know.

She is an American citizen who was gang raped in a country where mass killings, disappearances, and torture were used to oppress its people. When she returned to the U.S., she faced the horrifying reality that she was pregnant from the torture she survived. She was able to secure a safe, legal abortion, unlike the women in the country she fled. Even though the U.S. was there offering foreign aid, she and other rape victims could not have secured safe abortions.

Because even though abortion has been legal in the United States for four decades now -- and in cases of rape, incest and life endangerment, it is legal for federal funds to pay for it -- the U.S. denies funding for the same abortion services to women overseas even though U.S. law allows for it. The Helms Amendment, which forbids U.S. spending on abortions overseas for the purpose of family planning, does not prohibit U.S. foreign assistance for abortion in the cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. In actuality, and in stark violation of the Geneva Conventions -- to which the U.S. is bound -- the U.S. forbids its humanitarian aid to pay for abortion services for women who have faced war rape and torture.

Today, on the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Center for Health and Gender Equity is calling on the United States to demonstrate the depth of its compassion as a country and allow U.S. foreign assistance to be used to provide abortion services. Congress must repeal Helms entirely, but in light of current reports of war rape in Syria and gang rape in India, there is an urgent need to comply immediately with current U.S. law, and the Geneva Conventions, and fund abortion in cases of rape, incest and life endangerment.

The U.S. is a generous country and has the capacity to respond to global violence against women and girls with compassion. Compassion to not only commit ourselves to prevent and end such violence, but compassion to provide the highest standard of care and support, to treat wounds and restore health for the women and girls who face such cruelty.

Politics has no soul when we allow political agendas to interfere with support for those who suffer. It is unconscionable to deny women and girls who have been raped, and whose lives are at risk, the support and restorative health services they need. On the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we have to act with compassion and allow U.S. foreign assistance to fund abortion services for women and girls -- whether they live in war and conflict or a nation at peace. We can at least start by responding to the women and girls who have been raped and whose lives are at risk.