Andrea Lynch spent four years in the communications program of the International Women's Health Coalition, where she worked to build global support for sexual and reproductive health and rights through developing resources for activists in Africa, Asia, and Latin America and building awareness of how U.S. policies impact women and youth worldwide. She recently conducted research on interorganizational alliances for a masters degree in Participation, Power, and Social Change, based at the Nicaraguan NGO Puntos de Encuentro in Managua, Nicaragua.
While no Republican candidate's campaign responded to Rewire's questionnaire on their positions on sexual and reproductive health, in mining through their public statements, we discovered the following.
Don't know what the presidential candidates think about reproductive health beyond their position on Roe? Rewire developed a questionnaire to help sort out the contenders' positions on sexual and reproductive health -- beyond the sole issue of abortion. The candidates respond -- but most don't.
Sen. Barack Obama's campaign staff responds to Rewire's questions on reproductive health -- sharing his position on the Hyde Amendment, crisis pregnancy centers, the global gag rule, and much, much more!
Rewire sorted through the public statements of Sen. Joe Biden, Sen. Hillary Clinton, Sen. Mike Gravel, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, and Gov. Bill Richardson in order to find out where they stand on a number of sexual and reproductive rights issues.
Want to spread the reproductive health love this holiday season? We're back with the second installment of Rewire's guide to the books, movies, and organization that make reproductive justice their mission.
This holiday season, why not give the gift of reproductive justice? Browse our selection of reproductive freedom-friendly books and DVDs, or check out our donation guide if you’re in the mood to spread some holiday cheer.
Having a child as a teenager is undeniably difficult, and providing women with the tools to avoid or delay pregnancy until they feel ready is a worthy policy goal. But when adolescent pregnancy is not prevented, how far are we willing to go to help our young mothers?
In this two-part series, Andrea Lynch looks at the closure of the New York City Department of Education's "P schools" - educational programs for pregnant and parenting students - and the new ways grassroots groups conceive of teen parenting.
Legislation proposed by Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) would take concrete steps to prevent child marriage in the countries where girls are most vulnerable by generating political commitment to address child marriage as a human rights abuse.
Last Thursday, the Nicaraguan National Assembly voted 66-3 to recriminalize therapeutic abortion during an overhaul of the Nicaraguan penal code, again choosing unvarnished political opportunism over accepted medical consensus and concern for women's health.
HIV is not yet widespread in Nicaragua, but with no sexuality education to speak of, a weak health system, and a culture of machismo that leaves women with little control over their sexual and reproductive lives, young people and women face particular HIV risk, and their infection rates are climbing.
Due to the sustained conflict and economic downturn ushered in by the U.S. invasion, Iraqi women are now migrating to Syria in droves, where they're faced with exotic dancing and sex work to support themselves.
Appreciative inquiry is about recognizing the positive, instead of focusing on the negative. So let's take a moment to appreciate all of the folks who continue to place real women's lives, rights, needs and capacities at the center of their work.
The Supreme Court has effectively unfurled the judicial equivalent of a banner reading "Bring it on, Roe haters!" by upholding the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003; we can expect even more state-level restrictions in the months and years to come. Meanwhile, Nicaragua women are suffering from that country's total abortion ban—36 women have died from pregnancy- and childbirth-related causes so far in 2007.
Just when you thought the information surfacing about "Dr." Eric Keroack's professional practice and extracurricular pseudo-medical activities couldn't get any weirder ... it just got weirder. Back in November, Keroack was appointed by Bush to head the Title X Federal Family Planning Program, amidst widespread outrage over the fact that he runs a chain of highly unethical crisis pregnancy centers, believes contraception is demeaning to women, and has used junk science to argue that premarital sex undermines women's biological capacity to fall in love. After just five months on the job, on March 29 Keroack abruptly resigned as Head-Anti-Family-Planning-Zealot in charge of meeting low-income women's family planning needs, amidst investigations into the legitimacy of his professional practice. This week, the Boston Globe took a closer look at the Mass. board of medicine's accusations, and their report indicates a disturbing series of ethical lapses that should come as no surprise to those who have been following the coverage of Keroack to date.
In May 2006, Colombia's Constitutional Court handed down a historic decision, voting 5-3 to decriminalize abortion in cases where a pregnant woman's life or health was in danger, in cases where the pregnancy was a result of rape or incest, and in cases of severe fetal malformation. The decision, which came in response to a case brought by Colombian lawyer Monica Roa, was a watershed for Colombia—one of the few countries in the world where abortion had been illegal under any circumstances up until then, despite the fact that between 350,000 and 400,000 Colombian women still sought clandestine abortions every year.
First, it grounded the decision in the norms established by a number of international and regional human rights instruments to which Colombia (among others) is accountable. And second, it placed women's human rights, with a particular emphasis on their sexual and reproductive rights, at the center of its justification for decriminalizing abortion. Which makes it, like, 80 times more progressive than Roe v. Wade, by the way. Women's Link Worldwide, the organization that supported Roa's case, has recently translated the most groundbreaking excerpts of the Court's 600-page decision into English, and posted the document on their website together with an excellent foreword by Rebecca J. Cook, a feminist and human rights scholar at the University of Toronto. Highlights follow.
Safe and legal abortion has been widely available in the United Kingdom since the passage of the 1967 Abortion Act, a piece of legislation that accomplished for British women what Roe v. Wade would accomplish six years later for their sisters in the United States. The 1967 Act made abortion legal through the 24th week of pregnancy, provided that two doctors certified that continuing the pregnancy "would present a risk to the physical or mental health of the woman or her existing children." In cases where a woman's life is threatened by the pregnancy or in cases of fetal malformation, there is no time limit.
Bad news for the 39 percent of female college students currently trying to avoid unwanted pregnancy by taking the pill: thanks to the far-reaching effects of a 2005 bill that took aim at Medicaid from multiple angles, their contraception may soon become unaffordable. According to an AP story published last week, the 2005 bill—which took effect this year—makes it more expensive for drug manufacturers to participate in Medicaid, while simultaneously removing the incentive for them to provide deep discounts to campus health centers for things like contraception. The result? Women at Kansas State University who used to pay $10 a month for pills will now pay $30. At Texas A&M, prices are expected to triple. And at Indiana University, women are now paying $22 a month instead of $10 for the same pills. These are just a few examples. As this latest development proves, the 2005 bill was a slap in the face for millions of sexually active college students currently struggling to work, study, make ends meet, and exercise responsible control over their reproductive lives.
Tuesday, March 20 is the sixth annual Back Up Your Birth ControlDay of Action, and today, a coalition of more than 100 women's health and medical organizations will undertake dozens of educational activities nationwide. Their message is simple: back up your birth control with Emergency Contraception (EC), which can prevent pregnancy if taken up to 72 hours after unprotected intercourse. EC has been available over the counter in the United States since 2006, following a three-year political kerfuffle at the FDA. Women under 18 still need a prescription, which is why many of today's events will focus on increasing adolescent girls' access to information about EC. Here are a few ways to get involved (after the break) ...
Move over Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and Karen Hughes: the Society for the Blaming of Terrorist Attacks on Abortions, Feminists, and Gay People has a new member, and his rhetoric leaves yours in the dust. Meet Steven Mosher, president of Population Research Institute (PRI), a "non-profit research and educational organization dedicated to objectively presenting the truth about population-related issues," and the source of countless objective presentations of truth on sexual and reproductive health. Mosher and PRI are perhaps most famous for their misinformation campaign against UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund), the world's largest multilateral provider of reproductive health services, resulting in the Bush administration's decision to freeze the traditional $34 million U.S. contribution to UNFPA for five years running. It's nice when Steve &friends get to dictate U.S. policy on reproductive health, isn't it?
Mosher's latest screed—whoops, I meant objective presentation of truth about population-related issues—comes in the form of a PRI Weekly Briefing titled "How Not to Win the War on Terror: Keep Exporting Abortion and Sex Education."
What is happening in our culture when the following two stories break on the same day? First, over at the Washington Post, "Christopher A. Warner says he considers himself something of a maverick, a caring physician willing to challenge medical orthodoxy in order to help women ... he is building a business as the first area physician to perform controversial procedures that use a laser to enhance sexual gratification by repairing tissue damaged by childbirth, to give women a ‘youthful aesthetic look' or to make those who are not appear to be virgins."Meanwhile, over at the San Francisco Chronicle,"A public high school has suspended three students who disobeyed officials by saying the word ‘vagina' during a reading from a well-known feminist play."
Last Thursday, in commemoration of International Women's Day, over two thousand women and men from across Nicaragua gathered to protest the total ban on abortion—including in cases where pregnant women's lives are at risk—that has been in place since late 2006.
International Women's Day is always such a bittersweet occasion—an opportunity to draw attention to the challenges facing women worldwide, but also an opportunity to celebrate women—all that we are, all that we do, and all that we have achieved. The Irish charity and development agency Trócaire has recently launched a gender equality campaign to raise awareness of the inequalities that come simply with being born female: you can watch the campaign's powerful TV ad below.
Jennifer Roback Morse needs some help finishing an article for the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs—can you pitch in? It's an unusual situation, since Morse—the author of Love and Economics: Why the Laissez-Faire Family Doesn't Work and Smart Sex: Finding Life-Long Love in a Hook-Up World, who describes herself on her website as "your coach for the culture wars"—usually seems to have all the answers. But in her most recent article, "Taxpayers Holding the Baby," coming up with a solution to the fact that in 2004, 55% of births in the state of Oklahoma were paid for by Medicaid, seems to have her stumped. I decided to take a closer look at her argument and see, as an advocate for reproductive health and pregnant and birthing women's rights, if I couldn't help out.
The United States may be a major donor in the struggle against HIV/AIDS, but our money comes with so many strings attached, it's often unclear if we're more interested in solving the problem or promoting our political agenda. Last week, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a ruling that had removed one of those strings, and it's bad news for organizations working to support the health and rights of sex workers—a population that is both highly vulnerable and highly marginalized in the struggle against HIV/AIDS. The ruling, in response to a U.S. government appeal to a lawsuit it lost against DKT International (an international non-profit with family planning and HIV-prevention programs in 11 countries worldwide) last year, upheld a provision that denies U.S. HIV/AIDS money to any U.S.-based or foreign organization that does not have a policy "explicitly opposing prostitution and sex trafficking."
Mitt Romney makes me sick, and not just because he hasn't stopped hating on my home state of Massachusetts since he shed the governor's mantle in favor of a shiny new presidential hopeful suit. I'm sorry, but the man has no integrity, and if so-called "values voters" wind up voting him into office, then we will finally have definitive proof that they do not know what the word "values" means.
A quick review of the flip-flopping—more worthy of a freshly caught fish than a man who honestly believes he has the credibility to run for president—that has characterized Romney's political career. Our story begins in 1994, during an unsuccessful run for U.S. Senate. During a debate with staunchly pro-choice opponent Ted Kennedy (D-MA), Romney made the following statements on abortion:
"I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country."
"We should sustain and support [Roe v. Wade] and the right of a woman to make that choice."
Some papers recently released by the Guttmacher Institute on adolescent pregnancy in Central America have got me thinking about the issue, since here in Nicaragua, it's not uncommon to begin having children in your teens. No big surprise, since sex education is basically non-existent, quality health services and complete health information are a distant dream for most of the population, and abortion is illegal without exception. In the organization where I work, the phenomenon breaks down primarily along class and educational lines: the women who clean the offices and work in the cafeteria almost all started having kids during their adolescence, whereas the women in the program staff (researchers, trainers, and writers), who generally had more resources and more schooling growing up, started having kids later in life, or don't have children at all.
There are 19 million women worldwide currently living with HIV/AIDS, but living with HIV is just one aspect of these women's lives. Reproductive rights organizations like Ipas and HIV/AIDS advocacy organizations like the International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS have been working for years to raise awareness of the comp[img_assist|nid=2482|title=True Love|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=100|height=80]lexity of HIV-positive women's sexual and reproductive realities, and a new project called Lifeboat offers a unique space to challenge stereotypes about HIV-positive women's lives. Specifically, Lifeboat seeks to shed light on the reality of HIV-positive motherhood, using film to present compelling, complex images of mothers living with HIV/AIDS.
Sad, sad news from Nicaragua, where another young mother has died as a result of the newlawprohibitingabortion under any circumstances—including when a pregnant woman's life is at risk. On February 7 the Nicaraguan daily El Nuevo Diarioreported that 22-year-old Francis Zamora died at Managua's Hospital Berta Calderón on January 30 from a massive infection resulting from a miscarriage that had begun days earlier. Claiming that their hands were tied by the new law, doctors had refused to perform a D&C (procedure to empty the uterus) that could have saved her life until it was too late. Francis leaves behind her mother, as well as three children, ages six, five, and one and a half.
I was thrilled to hear that Portuguese citizens voted this weekend to legalize abortion up to 10 weeks, in a public referendum that was initiated and strongly supported by Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates. Portugal is one of the few European countries (along with Poland, Malta, and Ireland) where abortion is still heavily restricted, and as a result, it currently has one of the highest rates of unsafe abortion on the continent--at least 20,000 illegal procedures are performed every year. Portugal is also known for its litigious approach to the abortion issue--five years ago, the government prosecuted a whopping 49 individuals accused of somehow participating in 17 women's illegal abortions, including a handful of taxi drivers. One Portuguese midwife is still serving an 8-year prison sentence as a result.
Well, the South Dakota legislature is at it again. Only a few short months after citizens of that state soundly rejected a law that would have made abortion illegal unless a woman's life was at stake, legislators have introduced a slightly more moderate version of the same bill. The new bill provides exceptions in cases of health-threatening as well as life-threatening pregnancies (though doctors seeking to perform abortions for health reasons must seek confirmation from a second doctor that the woman's health is indeed at risk—I wonder how that works in an emergency), as well as pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. The bill hasn't yet been approved by the legislature, but its introduction gives us an opportunity to survey the strategic landscape that currently lies before advocates for safe and legal abortion in South Dakota and nationwide.
More good news from Chile, where President Michelle Bachelet has refused to bow to reactionary forces in the Church and in the State, choosing instead to stand up for the reproductive rights of young women. Last week, she signed a decree to reinstate a program that would allow adolescent girls aged 14 and over free access to the morning-after pill. Her reasoning was simple: when taken correctly, emergency contraception is highly effective at preventing pregnancy. This is a particularly important resource in Chile, since according to government statistics, adolescents in Chile have 40,000 unwanted pregnancies a year—in fact, 15 percent of all births in Chile are to mothers 18 or younger, most without the means to afford quality care. Even though abortion is illegal under any circumstances—including life-threatening pregnancies, health-threatening pregnancies, and pregnancies resulting from rape or incest—over 100,000 Chilean women seek unsafe, illegal abortions every year, and over 30,000 of them wind up in the hospital with complications.
There's an excellent piece by British journalist Kira Cochrane in the January 29 edition of the New Statesman on the Global Gag Rule, and it's a must-read for anyone interested in learning more about the United States' very special role in the global public health crisis that is unsafe abortion. The Gag Rule, FYI, denies USAID family planning funds to overseas organizations that provide safe abortion services, counseling, or information, even if they are using their own funds to do so, and even if abortion is legal in their countries. It was established in 1984 by Ronald Reagan, lifted by Clinton in 1992, and reinstated by Bush Jr. on the first full day of his presidency in 2001. Surprise, surprise.
Here's an international abortion item you won't read about in LifeSiteNews: after reflecting on it for five minutes, a range of Nicaraguan decision-makers from both the Church and the State have suddenly decided that criminalizing abortion to save a woman's life might not be such a great idea after all. Would that they had been captured by the spirit of reflection back in October, when they joined together in an unholy alliance to yank the 130-year-old therapeutic abortion provision from the Nicaraguan Penal Code in the space of a few weeks, thereby rendering the procedure illegal under any circumstances, including health- and life-threatening pregnancies.
Two million Americans are currently living inside prisons, and although less than 10 percent of them are women, that statistic belies the fact that women are the fastest growing prison population in the United States—since 1980, the number of incarcerated women has risen by almost 500 percent. The steady increase in women's imprisonment rates is just one aspect of our culture's obsession with incarceration (we currently hold the dubious title of world leader in locking up its own citizens), fueled by an aggressive for-profit prison industry and a disturbing reluctance to engage in an honest national conversation about poverty, mental illness, drugs, and systemic discrimination, among other things.
Not since the appointment of Dr. W. David Hager to the FDA's reproductive health drugs advisory committee have Americans been so abuzz about an anti-family planning zealot appointed by the Bush administration to a federal body responsible for providing family planning information and services. Just over two months into his tenure as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Population Affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services (where he administers $283 million annual budget of federal family planning grants), we are still uncovering evidence of "Doctor" Eric Keroack's staggering lack of credentials. The latest exhibit is "OXYTOCIN: Is thisNANO-PEPTIDE a chemical type of HUMAN ‘SUPER-GLUE'?" (emphasis most definitely NOT mine),the PowerPoint presentation that sealed his infamy in the eyes of self-respecting scientists, physicians, and non-crazy people everywhere.
Disappointing news from Chile: on Friday, the Constitutional Court voted 6-4 to shut down a program that made the morning-after pill available free of charge to all Chilean women over 14. The Court's ruling came in response to a petition sent by 32 right-wing legislators who claimed that the pill violates parents' right to educate their children and fetuses' right to life. Their proposed plan for addressing the fact that 14 in 100 Chilean adolescents are sexually active by the age of 14, and 130,000 unsafe, illegal abortions that take place every year? Oh, wait, that's right. They don't have one.
Great news this week for UNFPA, the UN agency responsible for promoting and protecting reproductive health and ensuring safe motherhood in 140 countries worldwide. The agency has just announced that it received a record $360 million in 2006 contributions from 180 countries in total—the highest number of donor countries supporting the agency since 1969, when it started its work. In 1999, only 69 countries supported UNFPA. But today, in addition to top donors Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, the UK, Japan, and Denmark, every country in Latin America and the Caribbean, and every country in sub-Saharan Africa, pledged to support the agency.
Wednesday, January 10, the day I returned to Nicaragua after a one-month hiatus in the States, was a significant day in contemporary Latin American politics. Selected heads of state from the region and around the world had gathered in Managua to celebrate the presidential inauguration of left-wing Sandinista party leader Daniel Ortega, reelected for the first time in 16 years. Ortega's discourse has changed significantly since he was president in the 1980s - on Wednesday, his remarks focused on building strength through unity and reconciliation. He condemned the 16 previous years of conservative leadership that had widened inequalities between the rich and the poor and undermined many of the successes of the Sandinista era. Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and Bolivian president Evo Morales, George Bush's most outspoken critics in Latin America, also spoke at the inauguration, pledging economic and political solidarity with Nicaragua, and celebrating Ortega's victory as an important step against the marginalization of Latin American countries, and the neglect of their poorest citizens.
In February 2006, the UK government made a historic decision: in response to the erosion of funds available for work on safe abortion worldwide, it announced the creation of the Global Safe Abortion Fund (now known as the Safe Abortion Action Fund). Administered by the International Planned Parenthood Federation, the Fund offers nongovernmental organizations worldwide up to 2-year, $350 million grants for safe abortion advocacy, service provision, or operations research. Fund administrators have pledged to place a particular emphasis on reaching the most marginalized, vulnerable women in the world, many of them in developing countries.
With all the legitimately horrifying human trafficking occurring in the world, you'd think the U.S. State Department office dedicated to the subject would have better things to do than issue directives about politically correct language. Then again, I'm never surprised to hear how federal agencies under the Bush administration choose to interpret their jobs. So I was less than shocked to read that last month, the State Department office for combating human trafficking sent a directive to U.S. agencies and several foreign governments explicitly instructing them avoid using the terms "sex worker" and "child sex worker." What are the State Department's preferred terms? According to John Miller, the office's (now retired) director, "women used in prostitution" and "sexually exploited children" will do just fine, since by Miller's reckoning, those terms are "neither pejorative nor pretend that violence to women and children is ‘work.'"
The latest study to throw on the pile comes from the Guttmacher Institute: "Trends in Premarital Sex in the United States, 1954-2003," published in the January/February 2007 issue of Public Health Reports. The study does not directly review the content or the effectiveness of "abstinence-only" programs (plentyofothers have already done that). Instead, it seeks to highlight scientifically what those of us still living in the reality-based universe know intuitively: the vast majority of Americans not only have premarital sex, but also have been having it for decades.
Speaking of abortion as a human rights issue, the Inter American Commission on Human Rights has recently released a landmark statement condemning Nicaragua's therapeutic abortion ban. Calling the ban a threat to women's lives, as well as a violation of their physical and psychological integrity, the statement points out that "therapeutic abortion has been internationally recognized as a specialized and necessary health service for women, its ultimate purpose being to save the life of the mother when threatened during pregnancy." It also highlights the fact that criminalizing a life-saving medical procedure such as therapeutic abortion "hinders the work of health care professionals, whose mission is to protect the lives of their patients and provide them with adequate treatment."
Right on. The Inter-American Commission's statement echoes what Nicaraguanwomen and their doctors have been saying since the beginning: banning abortion violates the human rights of women.
Just in time for the Christmas season, there's a hideous little movie being advertised online by the Gunn brothers, the celebrated cinematic duo that brought us Shaky Town (on how marauding bands of San Francisco-based gay terrorists want to burn your churches and eat your children). The film is The Monstrous Regiment of Women and the title is just the beginning. With the stated goal of "blasting feminism" and "extolling femininity" (since they are mutually exclusive, natch), The Monstrous Regiment of Women seeks to set the record straight on feminism, which, in case you hadn't heard, has "restricted choices for all women, brought heartache to the lives of many, and perpetuated the largest holocaust since the beginning of time."
In honor of Wednesday's House vote, I'd like to highlight a few fantastic resources from the Abortion Conversation Project. Each one dares to sidestep the politics of the abortion debate in favor of promoting genuine dialogue and reflection about what the issue means for us as individuals and as a society:
Pregnancy: Lose the Adjective! A thought-provoking essay by Margaret R. Johnston that makes a compelling case for dropping modifiers like "unwanted," "unplanned," and "unintended" from our discussions of pregnancy, since such terms often wind up obscuring the complexity of what it means to be pregnant.
It's official: on February 11, 2007, Portuguese citizens will vote on whether or not to make abortion legal without restriction within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. Portugal is one of the few countries in Europe where abortion is illegal under most circumstances; currently, the procedure is legally available only in cases where a pregnant woman's life is at risk, or during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy in cases of rape or fetal malformation. Despite the restrictive laws, tens of thousands of Portuguese women seek illegal, unsafe abortions every year, and pro-choice organizations estimate that some 10,000 of them wind up in the hospital with complications. Worse, women who seek unsafe abortions face harsh prison sentences, and are subjected to the additional trauma of having their sentence read out loud during public and often televised trials. Inter Press Service has an excellent analysis of the current situation here.
November 25 is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and December 10 is International Human Rights Day. In 1991, the Center for Women's Global Leadership declared the 16 days between the two events "16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence." The campaign seeks to link violence against women - long seen as a "private matter" - to the public, global struggle for human rights.
A quick review of international news in the past month confirms what the world already knows - violence against women knows no borders, and despite progress made in the past few decades, there is still a "massive culture of neglect and denial" surrounding the issue. We know that violence against women takes many forms-from femicides in Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador, to hate crimes committed against women and girls in the United States, to street harassment in Egypt, to rape used as a weapon of war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. We know it's everywhere, but we also know that conflict, stress, and poverty make it worse.
It's official: on Friday, November 17, outgoing President Enrique Bolaños signed Nicaragua's total ban on abortion into law, over the protests of women and their doctors. In Nicaragua, life-saving abortions are now punishable by six years in prison - substantially less than Bolaños's requested penalty (30 years) or the Catholic and Evangelical Churches' (20 years). Of course, the lighter prison sentence doesn't change the fact that countless women will wind up paying for their reproductive transgressions with their lives - as one woman already has.
Undeterred by last week's thumpin', President Bush is already up to one of his old executive tricks: tapping anti-abortion, anti-sex ideologues to oversee federal programs, especially those related to women's health. As Ellen reported Wednesday, Bush has recently selected abstinence-only champion and anti-abortion crusader Dr. Eric Keroack to oversee funding for Title X - as in the U.S. Federal Family Planning Program, designed to deliver sexual and reproductive health information and services to low-income Americans. Bush has been flatlining funding for Title X since he took office, but why starve a federal program when you can use it to promote your ideological agenda instead? Here's where Dr. Keroack comes in.
Last week, the citizens of South Dakota, California, and Oregon sent a clear message to their elected representatives: stop restricting safe abortion at the state level. All of the victories were terrific news for supporters of women's reproductive freedom, since in the 33 years since Roe v. Wade guaranteed American women's right to a safe and legal abortion, hundreds of state-level restrictions that disproportionately target poor women, young women, women of color, and women living in rural areas, have slowly been eroding that right. The ballot victories were also significant because they came from the people themselves - so whining about "judicial activism" is strictly off-limits this time.
Of course, just when I was getting all psyched about how state legislators might just sit up and listen to their constituents, Republicans in the Missouri legislature had to go and write the most messed-up report ever. The report, authored by a Special Committee on Immigration Reform, concluded that high rates of illegal immigration in Missouri can best be attributed to...why, abortion, of course! Actually, I'm being unfair. Illegal immigration is not just abortion's fault. Here's what the report says:
The lack of traditional work ethic, combined with the effects of 30 years of abortion and expanding liberal social welfare policies have produced a shortage of workers and a lack of incentive for those who can work.
Despite the appalling amount of funding still being poured into unproven, ineffective, homophobic, sex-negative "abstinence-only" programs, the struggle to ensure young people's access to complete and accurate health information has not been without its victories. Maine, California, and, most recently, New Jersey, have all said no to just-say-no sex ed, and in April 2006 the Chicago Public Schools voted without objection to make comprehensive sex ed mandatory for all public schools in the city, in response to an advocacy effort led by youth activists, with support from the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health. Their decision also came in response to some illuminating research conducted by the Illinois Campaign for Responsible Sex Education, to wit:
66% of Illinois classrooms are not providing students with a comprehensive approach to sex education
30% of those teaching sex education in Illinois are not trained to do so, and 30% of trained teachers feel that they had not received enough training.
92% of Illinois sex education teachers believe that students, whether or not they are sexually active, should receive accurate information on birth control and safe sex in school.
Reading through the transcripts of the oral arguments heard by the Supreme Court in Gonzales v. Carhart and Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood on Wednesday, I couldn't shake the sneaking sensation of absurdity. Who knew Justice Kennedy was so knowledgeable about preeclampsia? As Scott rightfully points out, Wednesday's discourse left me wishing that the U.S. government were as intent on drawing a "bright line" between medical expertise and ideology-fueled congressional "findings" as it is on the one between abortion and infanticide.
Meanwhile, here in Nicaragua, where the National Assembly voted to ban therapeutic abortion (abortion to save a woman's life) on October 26, we're beginning to see what happens when politicians play doctor. Nicaraguan lame duck president Enrique Bolaños has yet to approve the ban on therapeutic abortion, but the medical community has already begun to panic - and, I'm sorry to report, women have already begun to die.
October 26th, the Nicaraguan National Assembly voted to criminalize therapeutic abortion, making Nicaragua one of only three countries in the Western Hemisphere where abortion is illegal even in cases where a pregnant woman's life is in danger. Nineteen medical associations opposed the ban, and now that it's likely to be signed into law, physicians are understandably alarmed. The proposed ban carries four- to eight-year prison sentences for women who seek abortions, as well as anyone who assists them - a scenario that could force doctors to choose between upholding the Hippocratic Oath and respecting the Nicaraguan Penal Code.
Two days after the National Assembly voted, the Nicaraguan Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (SONIGOB) sent an urgent letter to President Enrique Bolaños and the Minister of Health asking what actions would be taken to protect both patients and health workers in light of the new law.
The first sentence of the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 is a lie. It's also an appalling run-on sentence, but we won't get into that. The Act, signed into law by President Bush in 2003; challenged and struck down by three separate federal judges in 2003 and 2004; and now, amazingly, making its way onto the Supreme Court docket for November 8; starts like this:
A moral, medical, and ethical consensus exists that the practice of performing a partial-birth abortion - an abortion in which a physician deliberately and intentionally vaginally delivers a living, unborn child's body until either the entire baby's head is outside the body of the mother, or any part of the baby's trunk past the navel is outside the body of the mother and only the head remains inside the womb, for the purpose of performing an overt act (usually the puncturing of the back of the child's skull and removing the baby's brains) that the person knows will kill the partially delivered infant, performs this act , and then completes delivery of the dead infant - is a gruesome and inhumane procedure that is never medically necessary and should be prohibited.
Here's how you can already tell that the framers of this bill are already lying: the term "partial-birth abortion" is not recognized by the medical community (as Scott pointed out in his overview of the case's main issues yesterday, the first sentence of the American Medical Association's statement opposing the legislation reads, "The term ‘Partial birth abortion' is not medical terminology.").
Yesterday morning in Nicaragua, at the urging of the Church, the State turned its back on women. The National Assembly voted 52-0 to remove the 130-year-old therapeutic abortion exception from the Penal Code - meaning that Nicaraguan women with life-threatening pregnancies now face a death sentence. That includes women with ectopic pregnancies. That includes pregnant women who develop or discover that they have cancer or sexually transmitted infections. That includes nine-year-old girls who have been raped. Not one single legislator stood up for these women's right to life.
As a former and future New Yorker, I was thrilled to read about the New York State Court of Appeals' unanimous decision to uphold the Women's Health and Wellness Act, handed down last week. The Act, which requires insurance companies to cover reproductive health services for women and prohibits insurance plans from excluding contraception from their prescription drug coverage, had been challenged in the courts by eight Catholic and two Baptist organizations (for the second time). Are these the same people who complain about judicial activism on reproductive rights and condemn advocacy organizations' undemocractic use of the courts to resolve issues best left to representative legislative processes? Just curious. Regardless, their challenge kind of reminds me of the gentleman's agreement currently passing for a democratic process here in Nicaragua, aimed at outlawing therapeutic abortions - though with a happier ending for those of us who remain quirkily attached to the notion that we live in participatory, equitable democracies grounded in respect for the separation of church and state.
Happily, rays of hope sometimes spring from the most surprising places, and I was thrilled to read last week that Portugal - one of the only countries in Europe where abortion is still illegal under most circumstances - will be holding a referendum this January that could legalize abortion up to ten weeks.
There's a fantastic article on Alternet right now called "Reflections from a Former Anti-Abortion Activist" - a must-read for those on both sides of the abortion debate. The article, written by the intelligent, thoughtful, and truly pro-life Elizabeth Wardle, is an excerpt from the recently published Abortion Under Attack: Women on the Challenges Facing Choice. If this article is any indication, the book may not be a bad investment, especially for those who believe that the best way to move forward amidst the current political deadlock on abortion is to broaden, rather than narrow, the conversation.
Wardle's story isn't particularly shocking or sensational: growing up, she was a self-described "chaste, Christian, small-town, pro-life teenager from a happy home with two parents." She began to rethink her views on abortion when she arrived at college-she encountered points of view on sex and gender that were different from the ones she grew up with, her classes raised her historical and social consciousness, and she started to seriously contemplate what she would do, as a girl coming from a fundamentalist Christian family, if she accidentally got pregnant. Slowly, through a combination of empathy, contemplation, and pragmatism, her rigid views on the unacceptability of abortion for all women changed, and she now considers herself pro-choice.
Amidst the media hysteria about the U.S. population reaching 300 million this month, it seems an opportune moment to reflect on the deeply subjective nature of the concept of "overpopulation." One example: how is it that Europe's low birth rate is a population "crisis," whereas Africa's high birth rate is also a population "crisis"? Three guesses.
Greetings from Nicaragua, where abortion is about to be made even more illegal than it already is. On the eve of a heated presidential election, the executive committee of the Nicaraguan National Assembly is poised to accept a proposal that would remove the 130-year-old therapeutic abortion provision from Nicaragua's penal code. Their action would make abortion illegal in Nicaragua without exception - including, that is, in cases where a pregnant woman's life was at risk, or in case of rape, incest, or fetal malformation. If the proposal is accepted, Nicaragua will join El Salvador and Chile as one of the few countries in the Western Hemisphere where abortion is totally illegal. For a thoroughly chilling portrait of how this will affect Nicaraguan women's lives, read Jack Hitt's "Pro-Life Nation."
While watching Match Point on DVD the other night, I was dismayed to encounter one of my least favorite movie cop-outs of all time: a conversation about abortion where the characters refuse to say the word abortion. Lame, lame, lame.
[img_assist|nid=892|title=|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=97|height=150]Hats off to Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, who released a truly amazing Catholic voter guide called Voting for the Common Good last week, in anticipation of the upcoming congressional elections. The guide outlines 18 "issues important to Catholics," mentioning abortion side by side with poverty, human rights, the environment, the death penalty, minimum wage, and workers' rights - among other urgent social justice issues du jour. I may not agree with the guide's take on every single issue, but I like the way its authors think.
In taking such a balanced, thoughtful, and morally consistent approach, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good subtly calls out the deafeningly black and white directives on voting one's religious values that are all the rage among hard-line right-wing organizations like the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM) these days.
Last Thursday night I had the privilege of celebrating the sixteenth anniversary of the September 28th Campaign to Decriminalize Abortion in Latin America and the Caribbean side by side with members of the Nicaraguan women's movement, who were gathered at the Rotonda de la Plaza Inter here in Managua for a candlelight vigil. The September 28th Campaign was born in Argentina in 1990 at the Fifth Latin American and Caribbean Feminist meeting, out of an urgent need to shed light on the public health crisis of unsafe abortion in Latin America. The campaign's rotating headquarters are currently located here in Nicaragua, where sex ed is practically non-existent, access to contraception is scarce, and the women's movement is in the midst of fighting a total ban on abortion.
[img_assist|nid=598|title=Special Series|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=100|height=67]Last week, while American anti-contraception activists gathered in Chicago to discuss how contraception (a.k.a. the "taproot" of abortion) is destroying America, a group of African health ministers and other African Union leaders met in Maputo, Mozambique to discuss how ensuring women's access to contraception and related sexual and reproductive health services might help Save Africa. Apparently, the African Union has not gotten the memo about how contraception is NOT the answer. But, in the great tradition of the Pro-Life Action League, it's time to take a closer look...
Earlier this year, the CDC caused a frenzy (Dan Savage's May 25thStraight Rights Update sums it up) when it released a spooky series of guidelines recommending, among other things, that "All women who are able to become pregnant should treat themselves and be treated by healthcare professionals as being pre-pregnant". Understandably, many of us in the pre-pregnant community freaked out-I'm as concerned about my present and future reproductive health as the next lady, but treating me like a breakable baby incubator on legs is probably not the best way to assuage my fears. As if there isn't enough attitude about young women's potential motherhood out there-it seems like every time I pick up a magazine, I'm looking at another hysterical article about my ticking biological clock.
I was on vacation here in Nicaragua last week, staying with friends in a gorgeous house at the top of a hill overlooking the Pacific beach town of San Juan del Sur. The house was built by an American expat who's been living and building in Nicaragua since the 1970s-today, he rents his houses out to gringos in search of a quiet vacation spot on the "undiscovered" Nicaraguan coast. The house was palatial, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't relish my stay there. But as we drove down the long, steep driveway and then along the road that leads into town, amidst the English-only Century 21 and ReMax signs advertising cheap properties for foreigners, I couldn't help noticing the wood and corrugated iron dwellings that crowd the ditches on either side of the road-where the real population of San Juan del Sur lives. The vacation houses in the hills are probably sturdy enough to survive a hurricane, but what of the families living in the valley below? September seems a particularly appropriate moment to contemplate the question, since it commemorates not only the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, but also the anniversary of her lesser-known cousin, Hurricane Stan.
Every once in a while, a piece of writing comes along that truly connects the dots, challenging us to think beyond the traditional ways in which we tend to divide up issues. "We must act on the lessons learned during the Zuma rape trial," co-authored by South African gender activists Bafana Khumalo and Dean Peacock (both men, by the way) of Sonke Gender Justice Project, is just such an article. It weaves together analysis of the now-infamous Jacob Zuma rape trial (wherein former Deputy President of South Africa Jacob Zuma was acquitted of raping a 31-year-old family friend) with the story of a colleague of the authors who was raped in her home by a stranger while the trial was unfolding.
Thanks to the ever-informative blogistas at Feministing for the following newsbit: according to the Khaleej Times, the UAE's Ministry of Health and Ministry of Justice took preliminary steps last week to introduce legal abortion in the United Arab Emirates. But hold on, frivolous female subjects: don't make your appointment just yet. According to Dr. Ali bin Shukar, the UAE's Under-Secretary of the Ministry of Health, "Abortion will be allowed in the country, but under tough conditions. Applicants must have valid reasons." And who gets to decide what constitutes a valid reason? Why, Dr. Shukar, of course!
I was pleased that UNFPA chose to focus its annual State of the World's Population Report on women and migration this year (read Tyler's full coverage of the report here). Even though half of all international migrants are women, there's an unfortunate (but not necessarily surprising) lack of data on how women experience migration differently than their male counterparts. Another UN study released this week hones in on the phenomenon in the Dominican Republic, where remittances constitute 13 percent of the gross national product, and more than half of the money comes from women. As the study reveals, even when women's labor is keeping their families afloat economically, social problems at home are still blamed on women's absence. Sheesh.
Three cheers for the Chilean Ministry of Health, which decreed on Saturday that all public health centers in that country are now required to provide birth control-including emergency contraception - free of charge to any Chilean woman over the age of 14 who requests it. The decree is part of a wider set of norms on sexual and reproductive health designed to bring Chile's health policies into better alignment with the international standards established at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development. Hip hip hooray!
It's a pretty progressive step for Chile, where laws and policies on gender and women's health tend to run from conservative to ultra-conservative - divorce was illegal until 2005, and abortion is still illegal under all circumstances (including cases where pregnancy threatens the woman's life).
I owe the doctors at Colombia’s Simon Bolivar hospital an apology. Earlier this week I wrote that they initially refused, on the basis of conscience, to grant a legal abortion to an 11-year-old girl who had been raped by her stepfather. In fact, they hesitated to perform the procedure because they feared prosecution (given the newness of Colombia’s abortion law), and when the Constitutional Court gave them the green light, they performed the procedure without delay. My apologies for the misattribution of their motives: that’ll teach me to trust the Catholic Information Agency as a reliable source.
Big news from Colombia: the first legal abortion after the Constitutional Court’s May 2006 decision to legalize the procedure in cases where the woman’s life is in danger, in cases of fetal malformation, or in cases where the woman has been raped, took place at Simon Bolivar hospital in Bogotá last Thursday. Admittedly, I use the term “woman” loosely, since the case in fact involved an 11-year-old girl who was raped by her stepfather(or, according to Catholic World News, who was “reportedly” raped by her stepfather). Despite the new law, the case had to go all the way back up to the Constitutional Court before the abortion was permitted, since initially the doctors refused to perform the procedure as a matter of conscience. Nice consciences, guys.
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