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Global Roundup: Catholic Church Opposes Women’s Health Care in the Philippines; Have Anti-Choice Extremists Invaded Britain?

Jessica Mack

Weekly global roundup: Philippines' Reproductive Health Bill could finally pass; Saudi Arabia makes moves to let women play in the Olympics; first national abortion study in Rwanda released; anti-choice zealots in the UK get a bit louder.

Welcome to our new Weekly Global Reproductive Justice Roundup! Each week, reporter Jessica Mack will summarize reproductive and sexual health and justice news from around the world.  We will still report in depth on some of these stories, but we want to make sure you get a sense of the rest and the best.

Catholicism V. Condoms in the Philippines

The elusive Reproductive Health Bill, a policy drafted decades ago and which has languished in limbo since then, may soon see the light of day in the Philippines – changing the lives of an entire population. The historic bill, which would guarantee access to contraception and sexuality education for much of the population, has presidential support for the first time, and could be put to a vote within months. About 80 percent of the Philippines’ population of nearly 100 million is Catholic, and the Church wields tremendous power in social and political sectors – adamantly opposing access to modern contraception. In 2000, an Executive Order banned the sale and distribution of contraception in the capital of Manila. A systemic lack of access to birth control has contributed to countrywide poverty and hunger issues, as well the burden of unsafe abortion. One reproductive health activist called the bill a “silver bullet” to improve the health and lives of Filipinos, but the window to pass it is small and may be minimized further by powerful Church opposition. “If it doesn’t get voted on in June, we may have to wait another two years,” said a Manila-based lobbyist. Via Bloomberg.

Anti-Choice Uprisings in the United Kingdom?

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The war on women and choice rages on in the US, and seems to be spreading East. Britain, a country where abortion has historically been left largely out of the political arena may be getting a taste of American-style politics. A Scottish Cardinal last week said he wants the national health system in Britain to introduce mandatory ultrasounds as bulwarks against coercion. Meanwhile, Guardian columnist Zoe Williams has been tracking a number of strategic anti-choice policies which have failed, but not before creating “a huge amount of static […] that abortion providers were snake-oil salesmen and the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists were mercenary.” In other words, drumming up attention and opposition to a service that has otherwise been offered accessibly, widely, and quietly for decades. In October, a global group of anti-choice elites launched the San Jose Articles, a mock-up of a global doctrine decreeing that life begins at conception. Several signatories were prominent Brits. Just this month, the website of British Pregnancy Advisory Services (BPAS), a nationwide abortion provider, was hacked by an anti-abortion extremist.  A BPAS staffer has said of clinic protesters from the 40 Days for Life annual anti-choice campaign (ongoing now through April 1): “They’ve become emboldened recently. I think because they’ve detected a shifting climate on abortion.” Cue scary organ music, a definite situation to watch. Via Care2.

A Picture of Abortion in Rwanda

The first-ever national study on abortion in Rwanda was published last week by the National University of Rwanda and The Guttmacher Institute. There is little reliable and up-to-date information about abortion, unsafe or safe, in Africa and this latest study is an important piece of the puzzle. Abortion in Rwanda is legal to save a woman’s life or physical health, though it is too often portrayed as being  entirely illegal. Study findings suggest Rwanda’s national abortion rate is lower than the overall regional average, 25 abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age in Rwanda compared to 31 in sub-Saharan Africa and 36 in East Africa. Yet unintended pregnancy and unsafe abortion remain major obstacles for a country heralded as an “aid darling,” and which elected a majority-female Parliament just a few years ago. Nearly half of abortions in Rwanda are unsafe. Via AllAfrica.

Update: Saudi Women Play!

Following a Human Rights Watch report which publicized the systematic discrimination that women in Saudi Arabia face in sports, and a clarion call for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to pressure the country to field their first women’s team, we may have a breakthrough. Saudi and IOC officials met recently to review a list of potential Saudi female players and move forward with plans to field the first-ever female Saudi team at the Olympics this summer. The elevation of this issue has once again highlighted the critical – but tenuous – role of women in sports at all levels. In June, Title IX, the US legislation that qualified women’s high school and collegiate athletics for funding, will celebrate its 40th anniversary. You can hear President Obama speak about the significance of this policy for girls and for the United States here. Sadly, comments on ESPN’s feature story on the momentous anniversary is riddled with misogynist comments from angry male sports fans. The road has not been easy, and continues not to be, but breakthroughs like Saudi women in the Olympics are important events for women everywhere. Via CNN.

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