Unsafe Abortion as Human Rights Abuse

Amie Newman

Despite the new wave of "feminist" anti-abortion crusaders like Feminists for Life that spin legal abortion in this country as unsafe or harmful to women, the facts tell a very different story. As Tyler LePard and Katie Porter blogged last month, The British Journal, The Lancet, released a series of articles on sexual and reproductive health, coordinated by the World Health Organization. The study on unsafe abortion in developing nations called it a "silent pandemic" that is an "urgent public health and human rights imperative." Those are some pretty strong words - as well they should be.

Almost 70,000 women die every year (97% of them in developing nations) from unsafe and illegal abortion but millions more suffer complications such as hemorrhaging and infection. Many of those complications result in permanent damage for the women.

When are we, as a global community, going to treat this as a burning human rights issue and not just a political one?

Despite the new wave of "feminist" anti-abortion crusaders like Feminists for Life that spin legal abortion in this country as unsafe or harmful to women, the facts tell a very different story. As Tyler LePard and Katie Porter blogged last month, The British Journal, The Lancet, released a series of articles on sexual and reproductive health, coordinated by the World Health Organization. The study on unsafe abortion in developing nations called it a "silent pandemic" that is an "urgent public health and human rights imperative." Those are some pretty strong words – as well they should be.

Almost 70,000 women die every year (97% of them in developing nations) from unsafe and illegal abortion but millions more suffer complications such as hemorrhaging and infection. Many of those complications result in permanent damage for the women.

When are we, as a global community, going to treat this as a burning human rights issue and not just a political one? Access to safe and legal abortion improves women's health – despite the trendy taglines ("Women Deserve Better") that Feminists for Life has adopted. The first Lancet article noted that most of those 70,000 deaths each year could be prevented through access to contraception for the 80 million women each year faced with unintended pregnancies; 19 million of those end in unsafe abortion. But with U.S. public policy perversions like the Global Gag Rule and an administration that believes condoms are tools of the devil, it's unlikely that these countries will receive help from the United States to fund increased access to contraception and family planning for their citizens.

Feminists for Life is right – women do deserve better. The lack of investment in ensuring access to high-quality reproductive and sexual health care for women in developing countries is inexcusable and only growing, according to the World Health Organization. "These statistics represent an appalling catalogue of human tragedy," said Joy Phumaphi, WHO Assistant Director-General for Family and Community Health. "The issue is dropping down the international agenda."

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Despite the evidence that barriers to abortion access in developing countries results in death and ill health for millions of women each year, 74 U.S. Senators saw fit recently to urge Amnesty International, an organization with a mission to prevent human rights abuses, NOT to take a position on this issue at their August 2007 meeting. Amnesty International clearly sees the connection between their newest initiative, Stop the Violence Against Women, and access to safe, legal abortion. Sexual violence directed against women and girls can often lead to unwanted pregnancies. For these women and girls the stigma surrounding first being sexually victimized and then pregnant leads them to seek out abortion no matter how unsafe or illegal. And in some countries where abortion is a crime even women suffering miscarriages are terrified of the stigma or legal consequences (prison time!) of seeking treatment, fearing they will not be able to prove that they did not end their pregnancy voluntarily, opting instead to put themselves in peril. Amnesty International puts it in perspective:

These are the grave and tragic contexts in which AI is undertaking its current policy discussion on issues relating to abortion. As a human rights organization, AI cannot remain silent in the face of such suffering and injustice

The tragedy here is that unsafe abortion is entirely preventable if only we would start treating this international issue as a public health problem and not a political one. As we in this country endlessly debate when life begins, whether or not young women should be government mandated to tell their parents about their plans for an abortion or whether non-existent "partial birth abortions" should be permitted, we allow millions of women around the world to die without access to safe abortion, and family planning and contraception.

Women are dying because we have not prioritized women's lives as worth saving. We must urge governments around the world to adopt reproductive and sexual health as a top priority for their public policies and rise above the political firestorm that rages in this country around abortion. This problem will not go away until we give it the attention it deserves. Until then women will continue to needlessly suffer.

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (R-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

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Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

News Abortion

Parental Notification Law Struck Down in Alaska

Michelle D. Anderson

"The reality is that some young women face desperate circumstances and potentially violent consequences if they are forced to bring their parents into their reproductive health decisions," said Janet Crepps, senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights. "This law would have deprived these vulnerable women of their constitutional rights and put them at risk of serious harm."

The Alaska Supreme Court has struck down a state law requiring physicians to give the parents, guardians, or custodians of teenage minors a two-day notice before performing an abortion.

The court ruled that the parental notification law, which applies to teenagers younger than 18, violated the Alaska Constitution’s equal protection guarantee and could not be enforced.

The ruling stems from an Anchorage Superior Court decision that involved the case of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands and physicians Dr. Jan Whitefield and Dr. Susan Lemagie against the State of Alaska and the notification law’s sponsors.

In the lower court ruling, a judge denied Planned Parenthood’s requested preliminary injunction against the law as a whole and went on to uphold the majority of the notification law.

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Planned Parenthood and the physicians had appealed that superior court ruling and asked for a reversal on both equal protection and privacy grounds.

Meanwhile, the State of Alaska and the notification law’s sponsors appealed the court’s decision to strike some of its provisions and the court’s ruling.

The notification law came about after an initiative approved by voters in August 2010. The law applied to “unemancipated, unmarried minors” younger than 18 seeking to terminate a pregnancy and only makes exceptions in documented cases of abuse and medical emergencies, such as one in which the pregnant person’s life is in danger.

Justice Daniel E. Winfree wrote in the majority opinion that the anti-choice law created “considerable tension between a minor’s fundamental privacy right to reproductive choice and how the State may advance its compelling interests.”

He said the law was discriminatory and that it could unjustifiably burden “the fundamental privacy rights only of minors seeking pregnancy termination, rather than [equally] to all pregnant minors.”

Chief Justice Craig Stowers dissented, arguing that the majority’s opinion “unjustifiably” departed from the Alaska Supreme Court’s prior approval of parental notification.

Stowers said the opinion “misapplies our equal protection case law by comparing two groups that are not similarly situated, and fails to consider how other states have handled similar questions related to parental notification laws.”

Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) officials praised the court’s ruling, saying that Alaska’s vulnerable teenagers will now be relieved of additional burdensome hurdles in accessing abortion care. Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union, CRR, and Planned Parenthood represented plaintiffs in the case.

Janet Crepps, senior counsel at CRR, said in a statement that the “decision provides important protection to the safety and well-being of young women who need to end a pregnancy.”

“The reality is that some young women face desperate circumstances and potentially violent consequences if they are forced to bring their parents into their reproductive health decisions. This law would have deprived these vulnerable women of their constitutional rights and put them at risk of serious harm,” Crepps said.

CRR officials also noted that most young women seeking abortion care involve a parent, but some do not because they live an abusive or unsafe home.

The American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the Society for Adolescent Medicine have said minors’ access to confidential reproductive health services should be protected, according to CRR.