Nepal Advances As U.S. Backslides on Women’s Rights

Melissa Upreti

For centuries Nepal banned abortion under any circumstance. Women were imprisoned and many more died in the process. Now the highest legal authority in the country has explicitly recognized a woman as the master of her own body.

As the U.S. Congress launches one of the most vicious attacks against women’s health in recent history, the Supreme Court of Nepal has officially issued a groundbreaking decision on women’s reproductive rights that turns on its head patriarchal notions of the government’s right to interfere in women’s decisions about their bodies. The ruling unequivocally recognizes a woman’s right to abortion as a crucial component of her reproductive rights that cannot be denied by the government without violating a broad range of her human rights.

For centuries Nepal banned abortion under any circumstance – and did not explicitly permit it even to save the life of a woman. Women were routinely thrown into prison for having abortions and many more died in the process. Unsafe abortion was widespread with women desperately seeking to end their pregnancies in order to protect their health, families, and livelihoods.  The law and the criminal justice system completely ignored the circumstances surrounding a woman’s pregnancy and decision to have abortion. The ban opened the door for law enforcement officials to arbitrarily classify many abortion cases as “infanticide,” or the murder of a child following birth—a crime that carried heavy criminal penalties. And the women typically targeted were poor. It wasn’t until 2002 that the King of Nepal signed into law a bill permitting abortion under broad grounds, marking the beginning of a number of dramatic steps towards guaranteeing women’s access to safe reproductive health services in the country.

Nepal’s experience, and that of other countries with restrictive abortion laws, clearly illustrate that making abortion illegal does not stop women from seeking abortion, it only results in women endangering their lives to end their pregnancies, particularly those with fewer resources. Indeed, prior to the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, illegal abortion was common in the U.S. Yet 38 years later, federal lawmakers are engaged in an aggressive campaign designed to severely limit women’s access to abortion by making it less affordable and shutting down abortion providers.

Nepal, on the other hand, has learned its lesson and ironically, is being inspired by Roe. Until just a few years ago, the South Asian country was officially the world’s only Hindu kingdom and today, it is a secular state.  It is exemplary that in such a short time, people have come to understand the importance of separating religion from governance. As a result, the highest legal authority in the country has issued a bold decision that explicitly recognizes a woman as the master of her own body and the government’s obligation to guarantee safe and affordable access to abortion services.

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Here are highlights from the decision:

  • It states that just as the law does not force a man to use his body in certain ways, as a matter of equality, a woman cannot be forced to allow her body be used in ways that she does not want.
  • It affirms the importance of making sure that women are not unjustly denied access to legal abortion services because of the cost and makes it obligatory for the government to provide free services to women who cannot pay.  Access to abortion services, it notes, is a matter of women’s rights and social justice.
  • It establishes that the fetus cannot be prioritized over the protection of a woman’s physical and mental health and well-being as, without the mother, there would be no fetusPointing to numerous scenarios that would result from legally recognizing the fetus as a human life, the court says it would not be practical to force women into such risky and dangerous situations. 
  • The decision also briefly mentions Roe noting that the US Supreme Court  does not recognize the fetus as a human life.

The court’s ruling revolved around a case involving a mother of five children who decided to have an abortion when she became pregnant for the sixth time.  She was extremely poor and did not have the money or resources to even afford contraception. She could barely afford to feed her children with her husband’s meager income. She herself was in very poor health.  So, when she became pregnant again, she and her husband went to the nearest hospital to obtain a legal abortion. But she was unable to do so only because she could not pay for it. The doctors asked her for 1130 rupees (approximately $15) which she did not have.  As a result, she was forced to carry the pregnancy to term and become a mother for the sixth time.

Hers is not the story of just one woman, but of many women across Nepal and across the world.   As such, this is the kind of legal decision that women are in need of everywhere – a decision that wholly recognizes their dignity and human rights. 

News Abortion

Anti-Choice Leader to Remove Himself From Medical Board Case in Ohio

Michelle D. Anderson

In a letter to the State of Ohio Medical Board, representatives from nine groups shared comments made by Gonidakis and said he lacked the objectivity required to remain a member of the medical board. The letter’s undersigned said the board should take whatever steps necessary to force Gonidakis’ resignation if he failed to resign.

Anti-choice leader Mike Gonidakis said Monday that he would remove himself from deciding a complaint against a local abortion provider after several groups asked that he resign as president of the State of Ohio Medical Board.

The Associated Press first reported news of Gonidakis’ decision, which came after several pro-choice groups said he should step down from the medical board because he had a conflict of interest in the pending complaint.

The complaint, filed by Dayton Right to Life on August 3, alleged that three abortion providers working at Women’s Med Center in Dayton violated state law and forced an abortion on a patient that was incapable of withdrawing her consent due to a drug overdose.

Ohio Right to Life issued a news release the same day Dayton Right to Life filed its complaint, featuring a quotation from its executive director saying that local pro-choice advocates forfeit “whatever tinge of credibility” it had if it refused to condemn what allegedly happened at Women’s Med Center.

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Gonidakis, the president of Ohio Right to Life, had then forwarded a copy of the news release to ProgressOhio Executive Director Sandy Theis with a note saying, “Sandy…. Will you finally repudiate the industry for which you so proudly support? So much for ‘women’s health’. So sad.”

On Friday, ProgressOhio, along with eight other groupsDoctors for Health Care Solutions, Common Cause Ohio, the Ohio National Organization for Women, Innovation Ohio, the Ohio House Democratic Women’s Caucus, the National Council of Jewish Women, Democratic Voices of Ohio, and Ohio Voice—responded to Gonidakis’ public and private commentary by writing a letter to the medical board asking that he resign.

In the letter, representatives from those groups shared comments made by Gonidakis and said he lacked the objectivity required to remain a member of the medical board. The letter’s undersigned said the board should take whatever steps necessary to force Gonidakis’ resignation if he failed to resign.

Contacted for comment, the medical board did not respond by press time.

The Ohio Medical Board protects the public by licensing and regulating physicians and other health-care professionals in part by reviewing complaints such as the one filed by Dayton Right to Life.

The decision-making body includes three non-physician consumer members and nine physicians who serve five-year terms when fully staffed. Currently, 11 citizens serve on the board.

Gonidakis, appointed in 2012 by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, is a consumer member of the board and lacks medical training.

Theis told Rewire in a telephone interview that the letter’s undersigned did not include groups like NARAL Pro-Choice and Planned Parenthood in its effort to highlight the conflict with Gonidakis.

“We wanted it to be about ethics” and not about abortion politics, Theis explained to Rewire.

Theis said Gonidakis had publicly condemned three licensed doctors from Women’s Med Center without engaging the providers or hearing the facts about the alleged incident.

“He put his point out there on Main Street having only heard the view of Dayton Right to Life,” Theis said. “In court, a judge who does something like that would have been thrown off the bench.”

Arthur Lavin, co-chairman of Doctors for Health Care Solutions, told the Associated Press the medical board should be free from politics.

Theis said ProgressOhio also exercised its right to file a complaint with the Ohio Ethics Commission to have Gonidakis removed because Theis had first-hand knowledge of his ethical wrongdoing.

The 29-page complaint, obtained by Rewire, details Gonidakis’ association with anti-choice groups and includes a copy of the email he sent to Theis.

Common Cause Ohio was the only group that co-signed the letter that is decidedly not pro-choice. A policy analyst from the nonpartisan organization told the Columbus Dispatch that Common Cause was not for or against abortion, but had signed the letter because a clear conflict of interest exists on the state’s medical board.

News Politics

Missouri ‘Witch Hunt Hearings’ Modeled on Anti-Choice Congressional Crusade

Christine Grimaldi

Missouri state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) said the Missouri General Assembly's "witch hunt hearings" were "closely modeled" on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans' special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life.

Congressional Republicans are responsible for perpetuating widely discredited and often inflammatory allegations about fetal tissue and abortion care practices for a year and counting. Their actions may have charted the course for at least one Republican-controlled state legislature to advance an anti-choice agenda based on a fabricated market in aborted “baby body parts.”

“They say that a lot in Missouri,” state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) told Rewire in an interview at the Democratic National Convention last month.

Newman is a longtime abortion rights advocate who proposed legislation that would subject firearms purchases to the same types of restrictions, including mandatory waiting periods, as abortion care.

Newman said the Missouri General Assembly’s “witch hunt hearings” were “closely modeled” on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans’ special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life. Both formed last year in response to videos from the anti-choice front group the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) accusing Planned Parenthood of profiting from fetal tissue donations. Both released reports last month condemning the reproductive health-care provider even though Missouri’s attorney general, among officials in 13 states to date, and three congressional investigations all previously found no evidence of wrongdoing.

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Missouri state Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R), the chair of the committee, and his colleagues alleged that the report potentially contradicted the attorney general’s findings. Schaefer’s district includes the University of Missouri, which ended a 26-year relationship with Planned Parenthood as anti-choice state lawmakers ramped up their inquiries in the legislature. Schaefer’s refusal to confront evidence to the contrary aligned with how Newman described his leadership of the committee.

“It was based on what was going on in Congress, but then Kurt Schaefer took it a step further,” Newman said.

As Schaefer waged an ultimately unsuccessful campaign in the Missouri Republican attorney general primary, the once moderate Republican “felt he needed to jump on the extreme [anti-choice] bandwagon,” she said.

Schaefer in April sought to punish the head of Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis affiliate with fines and jail time for protecting patient documents he had subpoenaed. The state senate suspended contempt proceedings against Mary Kogut, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, reaching an agreement before the end of the month, according to news reports.

Newman speculated that Schaefer’s threats thwarted an omnibus abortion bill (HB 1953, SB 644) from proceeding before the end of the 2016 legislative session in May, despite Republican majorities in the Missouri house and senate.

“I think it was part of the compromise that they came up with Planned Parenthood, when they realized their backs [were] against the wall, because she was not, obviously, going to illegally turn over medical records.” Newman said of her Republican colleagues.

Republicans on the select panel in Washington have frequently made similar complaints, and threats, in their pursuit of subpoenas.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the chair of the select panel, in May pledged “to pursue all means necessary” to obtain documents from the tissue procurement company targeted in the CMP videos. In June, she told a conservative crowd at the faith-based Road to Majority conference that she planned to start contempt of Congress proceedings after little cooperation from “middle men” and their suppliers—“big abortion.” By July, Blackburn seemingly walked back that pledge in front of reporters at a press conference where she unveiled the select panel’s interim report.

The investigations share another common denominator: a lack of transparency about how much money they have cost taxpayers.

“The excuse that’s come back from leadership, both [in the] House and the Senate, is that not everybody has turned in their expense reports,” Newman said. Republicans have used “every stalling tactic” to rebuff inquiries from her and reporters in the state, she said.

Congressional Republicans with varying degrees of oversight over the select panel—Blackburn, House Speaker Paul Ryan (WI), and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton (MI)—all declined to answer Rewire’s funding questions. Rewire confirmed with a high-ranking GOP aide that Republicans budgeted $1.2 million for the investigation through the end of the year.

Blackburn is expected to resume the panel’s activities after Congress returns from recess in early September. Schaeffer and his fellow Republicans on the committee indicated in their report that an investigation could continue in the 2017 legislative session, which begins in January.

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