Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Back

Beth Fredrick

Women Deliver and the Global Safe Abortion Conference proved that at least a few thousand people from among the world's 6.6 billion are ready to shake up priorities for women's health and end the unnecessary suffering that in much of the world endures.

Taking a page from the Clinton Global Initiative, the recent Women Deliver Conference in London was full of commitments. The U.K. government announced a $200 million grant to the United Nations Population Fund for contraceptive commodities, and the Japanese government vowed to make global health a priority at the Group of Eight Summit meeting next year in Japan. The John D. and Catherine T. Mac Arthur Foundation placed an extremely large bet–$11 million–on a four-part intervention strategy to dramatically reduce maternal mortality. First implemented in Nigeria and India (where 30% of all maternal deaths occur), the strategy is significant in that it specifically trusts and empowers women, families and communities to take action when a woman's health and life are in danger during childbirth. Following on the heels of Women Deliver, the Global Safe Abortion Conference may not have played host to the grand gestures made at Women Deliver, but private and public donor agencies, with the notable absence of the U.S. government, were there in force.

The take-home message was clear: At least a few thousand people from among the world's 6.6 billion are ready to shake up priorities for women's health and end the unnecessary suffering that in much of the world endures. Both conferences attracted policymakers who actually hold much of the power over that progress. But it was the final policymaker in the final plenary who brought home just how much of an uphill climb we still have to ensure a woman's health and dignity during pregnancy.

In addressing the Global Safe Abortion Conference, Lord David Steel–architect of the 1967 law legalizing abortion in England–underscored his preference for contraception over abortion. His remarks reinforced quotes in that day's Guardian, where he lamented that the law had led to far too many abortions: "If things go wrong you can get an abortion, and it is irresponsible, really…people should be a bit more responsible in their activities, and in particular in the use of contraception." Ann Furedi, Chief Executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Services, responded that, "Abortion is not in itself the problem. The problem is the unwanted pregnancy and abortion can be the solution to that for many women. There's no right or wrong number; we need as many abortions as are necessary to solve the problem pregnancies that women face." It is unfortunate that Lord Steel's remarks come at a time when the U.K Parliament reviews its abortion law. Though the British public is firmly prochoice, 1 in 10 say that a woman does not have the right to decide to have an abortion.

The debate underscores just how important these two conferences were. Nothing is ever assured when it comes to women's rights and health, and we gain strength from one another. There is no hiding from the fact that achieving Millennium Development Goal number five, to improve maternal health, will require drastic course correction.

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Though the conferences were two significant steps forward, we were put at least three steps back by Lord Steel's remarks, the absence of many policymakers at the Global Safe Abortion Conference (especially those who support reproductive rights) and the great distance we have to bridge between maternal health and gender equality and equity.

We need to acknowledge that until women gain equal status, health systems improve and laws change, many women will have a baby or an abortion on their own or with unskilled help. We will have to be vigilantly on the lookout for policymakers who forget or ignore that women have the right and the sense to make their own decisions when it comes to pregnancy and deserve every support that communities and societies can provide.

News Abortion

Study: United States a ‘Stark Outlier’ in Countries With Legal Abortion, Thanks to Hyde Amendment

Nicole Knight Shine

The study's lead author said the United States' public-funding restriction makes it a "stark outlier among countries where abortion is legal—especially among high-income nations."

The vast majority of countries pay for abortion care, making the United States a global outlier and putting it on par with the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan and a handful of Balkan States, a new study in the journal Contraception finds.

A team of researchers conducted two rounds of surveys between 2011 and 2014 in 80 countries where abortion care is legal. They found that 59 countries, or 74 percent of those surveyed, either fully or partially cover terminations using public funding. The United States was one of only ten countries that limits federal funding for abortion care to exceptional cases, such as rape, incest, or life endangerment.

Among the 40 “high-income” countries included in the survey, 31 provided full or partial funding for abortion care—something the United States does not do.

Dr. Daniel Grossman, lead author and director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) at the University of California (UC) San Francisco, said in a statement announcing the findings that this country’s public-funding restriction makes it a “stark outlier among countries where abortion is legal—especially among high-income nations.”

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The researchers call on policymakers to make affordable health care a priority.

The federal Hyde Amendment (first passed in 1976 and reauthorized every year thereafter) bans the use of federal dollars for abortion care, except for cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. Seventeen states, as the researchers note, bridge this gap by spending state money on terminations for low-income residents. Of the 14.1 million women enrolled in Medicaid, fewer than half, or 6.7 million, live in states that cover abortion services with state funds.

This funding gap delays abortion care for some people with limited means, who need time to raise money for the procedure, researchers note.

As Jamila Taylor and Yamani Hernandez wrote last year for Rewire, “We have heard first-person accounts of low-income women selling their belongings, going hungry for weeks as they save up their grocery money, or risking eviction by using their rent money to pay for an abortion, because of the Hyde Amendment.”

Public insurance coverage of abortion remains controversial in the United States despite “evidence that cost may create a barrier to access,” the authors observe.

“Women in the US, including those with low incomes, should have access to the highest quality of care, including the full range of reproductive health services,” Grossman said in the statement. “This research indicates there is a global consensus that abortion care should be covered like other health care.”

Earlier research indicated that U.S. women attempting to self-induce abortion cited high cost as a reason.

The team of ANSIRH researchers and Ibis Reproductive Health uncovered a bit of good news, finding that some countries are loosening abortion laws and paying for the procedures.

“Uruguay, as well as Mexico City,” as co-author Kate Grindlay from Ibis Reproductive Health noted in a press release, “legalized abortion in the first trimester in the past decade, and in both cases the service is available free of charge in public hospitals or covered by national insurance.”

News Politics

Democrats in Utah, Colorado Make History as First Openly Transgender Women to Win Congressional Primaries

Ally Boguhn

Though Misty Snow's win may be historic for LGBTQ equality, she has previously noted that it was not the reason she is running for office."I'm not running because I'm transgender. I just happen to be transgender," the Utah candidate said.

Voters in Utah and Colorado made history Tuesday after nominating Democrats Misty Snow and Misty Plowright to run for Congress in their respective states—making them the first openly transgender women to win a major party’s congressional primary nomination.

Misty Snow, according to the bio listed on her campaign’s website, is a 30-year-old grocery store cashier from Salt Lake County, Utah, “concerned by the degree of income inequality in this country: particularly how it disproportionately impacts women, people of color, and the LGBT community.” Among the many issues prioritized on her website are paid maternity leave, a $15 minimum wage, and anti-choice regulations that “restrict a woman’s right to having a safe and legal abortion as well as any attempts to undermine a woman’s access to important health services.”

Though her win may be historic for LGBTQ equality, she has previously noted that it was not the reason she is running for office. “I’m not running because I’m transgender. I just happen to be transgender,” she told the Salt Lake Tribune in May. In later statement to the publication, however, Snow acknowledged that “a lot of people have told me whether I win or lose, I’m already making a difference just by running.”

Snow ran opposite Democrat Jonathan Swinton in Utah, having filed to run for office just before the March 17 deadline. Snow decided to run after Swinton, who was running for the Democratic ticket unopposed, penned an op-ed in September arguing that Planned Parenthood should be investigated—though the government should not be shut down over it. After reading the op-ed and thinking it over for several months, Snow told the Tribune she began to think the people of Colorado deserved a more liberal option and thought, “Why not me?”

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Snow’s win means she will move on to run against incumbent conservative Sen. Mike Lee. As previously reported by Rewire, Lee is stringently anti-abortion and has consistently pushed measures “attempting to limit access to or outright ban abortion.”

Misty Plowright, who is running to represent Colorado’s 5th congressional district, describes herself as an “Army veteran, a self-educated woman, a member of the LGBTQ+ community, and a passionate social democrat,” according to her campaign’s website. An IT worker from Colorado Springs, Plowright billed herself as the “anti-politician” during an interview with the Colorado Springs Gazette, and is running on a platform that includes campaign finance reform and defending voting rights.

Plowright will now challenge incumbent Rep. Doug Lamborn (R) for his seat in the House.

Plowright congratulated Snow in her win in a Wednesday post to her campaign’s Facebook page. “Congratulations from ‪#‎TeamMisty‬ to another progressive candidate in Utah, Misty K Snow,” wrote Plowright’s campaign. “Both women made history last night by winning their Democratic Primary.”

As Slate reported, though the candidates may have both won their primary races, “Snow and Plowright face uphill battles in the coming months”:

Despite a Gallup survey from March 2015 that calculated Salt Lake City’s LGBTQ population as the seventh-highest in the nation, Lee leads Snow 51 percent to 37 percent among likely general election voters according to a poll commissioned by the Salt Lake Tribune and the Hinckley Institute of Politics in early June. And Lamborn, who has represented Colorado’s heavily conservative fifth district since 2007, took nearly 60 percent of the vote in his most recent reelection fight.