Commentary Abortion

Women’s Lives Matter: It’s Time to Hold Governments Accountable for Safe Abortion Care

Patty Skuster

We have to hold governments accountable. Laws must be clear on abortion and guidance and training need to follow. And never should a woman’s life hang in the balance because of someone else’s moral objection to abortion.

See all our coverage of the tragic case of Savita Halappanavar here.

The news of Savita Halappanavar’s tragic death after being denied an abortion has been heard around the world by now. Protesters have gathered in her honor, vigils will continue to be held and, perhaps, the end of her life will be a wake-up call. Women’s lives matter and laws should protect them—not cost them their lives.  

In Ireland, abortion is against the law in most cases. But Savita should have received a legal abortion; under the constitution abortion is allowed when a woman’s life is in imminent danger. And Savita’s husband reports that doctors told them an abortion wasn’t an option, despite her repeated requests and severely declining health, because Ireland “is a Catholic country.” What that meant for Savita was that the health-care providers at Galway University Hospital made decisions based on their values (as dictated by the Catholic Church) and disregarded the value of her life.

The lack of implementation of the abortion law in Ireland is very similar to so many countries where Ipas works. In most countries, abortion is permitted for one or more reasons. Human rights authorities—including at the United Nations and ICPD–agree that governments must take steps to make legal abortion available. In fact, in 2010, the European Court on Human Rights ruled that Ireland must implement its abortion law. But when governments don’t fulfill their obligations to protect women’s reproductive rights, women can’t access safe abortion services and die as a result. Just like Savita.

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We have to hold governments accountable. Laws must be clear on abortion and guidance and training need to follow. And make no mistake, these laws and policies must include regulation of providers’ refusal of service—to ensure that a woman can receive an abortion from a willing colleague through referrals or some other mechanism. And never should a woman’s life hang in the balance because of someone else’s moral objection to abortion.

Savita isn’t alone. There are so many women whose deaths are never reported or don’t have access to hospitals and die because they can’t get safe abortion care. Why? Because the laws are not implemented, people are unwilling or untrained to provide service, and abortion stigma permeates legal systems, health systems, communities and even families. For years, Ireland has failed to enact mechanisms for legal abortion because of political and social sensitivities. Without clarity about what’s permitted and what isn’t under the law, doctors and other health-care workers tend, as they did in Savita’s case, tragically, to play it really safe—for them, that is, not for the women who are affected. 

At Ipas we have worked throughout the world to help governments clarify and implement abortion laws. We partner with health-care providers, civil society organizations, and health ministries to pass guidelines that enable access to legal abortion. We support the training of health-care providers and partner with community organizations and the legal sector to promote an understanding of local abortion laws.    

Let’s not forget; a woman is dead after doctors refused to terminate an already unviable—yet wanted—pregnancy for a woman in incredible pain. Her husband is left to question the decisions made by these doctors—and to grapple with her death, which could likely have been prevented.

News Politics

Democratic Party Platform: Repeal Bans on Federal Funding for Abortion Care

Ally Boguhn

When asked this month about the platform’s opposition to Hyde, Hillary Clinton’s running mate Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) said that he had not “been informed of that” change to the platform though he has “traditionally been a supporter of the Hyde Amendment.”

Democrats voted on their party platform Monday, codifying for the first time the party’s stated commitment to repealing restrictions on federal funding for abortion care.

The platform includes a call to repeal the Hyde Amendment, an appropriations ban on federal funding for abortion reimplemented on a yearly basis. The amendment disproportionately affects people of color and those with low incomes.

“We believe unequivocally, like the majority of Americans, that every woman should have access to quality reproductive health care services, including safe and legal abortion—regardless of where she lives, how much money she makes, or how she is insured,” states the Democratic Party platform. “We will continue to oppose—and seek to overturn—federal and state laws and policies that impede a woman’s access to abortion, including by repealing the Hyde Amendment.”

The platform also calls for an end to the Helms Amendment, which ensures that “no foreign assistance funds may be used to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning.”

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Though Helms allows funding for abortion care in cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment, the Obama administration has failed to enforce those guarantees.

Despite the platform’s opposition to the restrictions on abortion care funding, it makes no mention of how the anti-choice measures would be rolled back.

Both presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) have promised to address Hyde and Helms if elected. Clinton has said she would “fix the Helms Amendment.”

Speaking at the Iowa Brown and Black Presidential Forum in January, Clinton said that the Hyde Amendment “is just hard to justify because … certainly the full range of reproductive health rights that women should have includes access to safe and legal abortion.” In 2008, Clinton’s campaign told Rewire that she “does not support the Hyde amendment.”

When asked this month about the platform’s opposition to Hyde, Clinton’s running mate Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) said in an interview with the Weekly Standard that he had not “been informed of that” change to the platform though he has “traditionally been a supporter of the Hyde amendment.”

“The Hyde amendment and Helms amendment have prevented countless low-income women from being able to make their own decisions about health, family, and future,” NARAL President Ilyse Hogue said in a statement, addressing an early draft of the platform. “These amendments have ensured that a woman’s right to a safe and legal abortion is a right that’s easier to access if you have the resources to afford it. That’s wrong and stands directly in contrast with the Democratic Party’s principles, and we applaud the Party for reaffirming this in the platform.”

News Abortion

Pennsylvania’s TRAP Law Could Be the Next to Go Down

Teddy Wilson

The Democrats' bill would repeal language from a measure that targets abortion clinics, forcing them to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical facilities.

A Pennsylvania lawmaker on Wednesday introduced a bill that would repeal a state law requiring abortion clinics to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical facilities (ASF). The bill comes in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling striking down a similar provision in Texas’ anti-choice omnibus law known as HB 2.

A similar so-called targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) law was passed in Pennsylvania in 2011 with bipartisan majorities in both the house and state senate, and was signed into law by former Gov. Tom Corbett (R).

SB 1350, sponsored by Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) would repeal language from Act 122 that requires abortion clinics to meet ASF regulations. The text of the bill has not yet been posted on the state’s legislative website.

The bill is co-sponsored by state Sens. Art Haywood (D-Philadelphia), Larry Farnese (D-Philadelphia), and Judy Schwank (D-Berks).

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Leach said in a statement that there has been a “nationwide attack on patients and their doctors,” but that the Supreme Court’s ruling upholds the constitutionally protected right to terminate a pregnancy.

“Abortion is a legal, Constitutionally-protected right that should be available to all women,” Leach said. “Every member of the Pennsylvania General Assembly swore an oath to support, obey and defend the Constitution of the United States, so we must act swiftly to repeal this unconstitutional requirement.”

TRAP laws, which single out abortion clinics and providers and subject them to regulations that are more stringent than those applied to medical clinics, have been passed in several states in recent years.

However, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt that struck down two of the provisions in HB 2 has already had ramifications on similar laws passed in other states with GOP-held legislatures.

The Supreme Court blocked similar anti-choice laws in Wisconsin and Mississippi, and Alabama’s attorney general announced he would drop an appeal to a legal challenge of a similar law.