August 30, 2014

Criminalizing Choice

Worldwide there are approximately 80 million unwanted pregnancies each year. Half of those pregnancies end in abortion, and half of those abortions, an estimated 20 million, are unsafe abortions. These unsafe abortions result in nearly 70,000 maternal deaths each year, and tens of thousands of additional complications and injuries.1

In many cases, even where abortion is legal, there are barriers to safe abortion care, such as a shortage of skilled health care providers, a shortage of equipment or medications, the cost of paying for abortion, lack of information, distance to health centers, or stigma around seeking abortion. In developing countries receiving US Foreign assistance, these barriers, particularly shortages in supplies and training, have been exacerbated in the past by the Global Gag Rule and continue to be exacerbated by the Helms Amendment. Read more about these two detrimental pieces of legislation in my previous blog posts about the Global Gag Rule, here, and about the Helms Amendment, here, to find out what you can do about it.

However, in countries where abortion is still illegal, the situation for women is even more dire.Women who unintentionally become pregnant and cannot or do not want to continue their pregnancy have no choice but to seek illegal and often dangerous methods of abortion. In addition to facing health risks, these women fear legal consequences for attempting to exercise their right to make choices about their bodies. The Center for Reproductive Rights has two enlightening videos that demonstrate the tragic consequences of criminalizing abortion.  “Forsaken Lives”  examines the discrimination from doctors and nurses faced by women in the Philippines who go to the hospital for post abortion care. “In Harm’s Way” addresses similar issues for women in Kenya.

Though the US cannot change laws in other countries, it is essential for us to support legislation that allows the US to provide resources for abortion where it is legal. This is why it is so vital to support the Global Democracy Promotion Act (H.R. 4879/S. 311), which would permanently ban the Global Gag Rule, allowing US funding to be allocated to organizations that provide education and services relating to abortion. US funds could still not be used directly to perform abortion, but they could, for example, be used to support a family planning clinic that provides birth control, testing services, and also performs abortion. Join the fight for women’s rights to control their own bodies by sending a message to your representative through the CHANGE website.

1Germain, Adrienne. “Achieving Maternal Health: Getting Further, Faster.” Global Health Magazine, Issue 06 Spring 2010.

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