We Trust Women: the case for decriminalising abortion

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In every country in the UK today, a woman who ends her own pregnancy without legal authorisation from 2 doctors can be sentenced to life in prison, under legislation passed before women had the vote.

The 1967 Abortion Act did not overturn these laws, but provided legal exemptions. It did not extend to Northern Ireland. Even where the Act applies, abortion is not a choice women can make for herself, but a decision which must be made on her behalf by 2 doctors. And women are still being prosecuted – and imprisoned - for ending their own pregnancies in the UK.

Public opinion is now more liberal than the law, yet we have seen little progress on reproductive rights since the 1960s. Join our panel of experts and discuss why we need to campaign for full decriminalisation of abortion across the UK.

Ann Furedi, Chief Executive of bpas

Sam Smethers, Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society

Elizabeth Prochaska, Human rights barrister at Matrix Chambers and founder of Birthrights

Diane Munday, Pioneering campaigner for the 1967 Abortion Act and former general secretary of the Abortion Law Reform Association in 1960’s

Goretti Horgan, Alliance for Choice Northern Ireland

Naomi Phillips, British Humanist Association (BHA)

 

When Tuesday, 15 March 2016 from 18:30 to 20:30 (GMT) - Add to Calendar Where Conway Hall - 25 Red Lion Square London WC1R 4RL GB - View Map

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Susan Cahill: ‘My abortion was not remotely traumatic … I have no regrets’

Dr Emer O’Toole and Dr Susan Cahill at The Theatre of Change Symposium 2016 at the Abbey Theatre.Photograph: Gerry Lundberg PR.

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The Irish Times,

Last month, Susan Cahill shared her abortion experience at a symposium in The Abbey Theatre. This is her story.

It’s 2013. I live in Canada. I teach Irish Studies and love that I can talk and think and write about my wonderful, yet complicated, country for a living. I am on a plane back to Ireland where I have been invited to give a talk based on my research. This is a big deal. I am excited and terrified. My period is late.

In the plane bathroom I notice that there is a little bit of blood. This is a huge relief. Back in my seat I feel untethered, loosened from the skein of worry that had been tightening around my muscles. I ask for a glass of wine and search through the movies for something mindless. I try to sleep. I can’t. I stare out the window into the blackness. I think about home, seeing everyone, how it will feel. Going home is always a bit fraught - excitement, guilt, and loneliness all jostling for attention.

In the Paris airport bathroom the tampon is bloodless. I freeze, replacing it anyway - travelling and flying always make everything a bit erratic, I convince myself. The altitude confused my body, my womb needs dry land and a secure geography. That is all. I do not think about what the secure geography of Ireland will mean if blood doesn’t come.

In Dublin I stay with a friend who is seven months pregnant and delighted to be. In her bathroom I remove another bloodless tampon and concentrate on the cramps that stab through my stomach. I’m sure that cramps will lead to blood one way or another.

It’s hard to disentangle jet lag from the exhaustion that drags at my bones, difficult to decipher the spasms that jag between my hips, the feeling that my insides are being dragged into the earth. The nausea could be a hangover. There is a persistent tugging at the centre of me as if something is trying to hook on. I try to work out if I’ve felt it every month. In any case, I decide to ignore everything until after my friend’s wedding. I can be good at denial. Wine helps.

On the phone from New York, a friend is reassuring, as she always is.

- Cramps are definitely a good sign. It’s just delayed. Don’t worry pet. There’s no way you could be. One night?! It’s really not that easy.

I feel terrible for airing my worries to her - she has been trying to get pregnant for two years now. The disappointment is starting to wear her down. My fear would be a miracle for her.

I go to the wedding. It is a slight blur. I drink. Wine and endless martinis, that all seem like incredibly good ideas at the time, each one a revelation. I dance, throwing myself across the floor, making best friends with everyone in the room. I am good at this. Parties. New people. Making the dance floor my home. But I can’t shake the murmurs from the back of my head that my breasts are bigger, and tender, and that my mid-section feels like it’s on loud speaker, announcing itself through my dress.

The hangover is brutal and I have forgotten to pack any kind of pants so I wear my pyjama bottoms to breakfast. I feel the need to explain this to everyone. I have an insatiable thirst for orange juice. The hangover is trying to kill me. I don’t have the energy to be embarrassed by my pyjamas any more. I don’t care what the taxi driver thinks. All I need is to crawl into bed.

The next day I buy a test. I avoid the ones with smiley faces. I skip over the ones with the blue lines. I need the word itself, I need to see the letters spelling it out:

Pregnant

2-3 weeks.

I only need one test to convince me. It seems inevitable and utterly impossible. I am instantly nauseous.

The weirdness of my body makes immediate sense. It is almost as if my body had always known. I had woken in a dead panic a few weeks ago, propelled out of bed to stare at myself in the mirror, convinced in the half-asleep surety that I am 5 months pregnant (instead of just having conceived - which is much more logical, and true). I had scanned Google for confirmation that you could bleed and still be pregnant, which, of course, Google provides in numerous hysterical forums.

I am amazed at the way your body could know and think and remember but that your consciousness would only understand part of the story. It was as if they spoke slightly different languages or that one wasn’t the best listener. How can knowing and not knowing something overlap so completely?

The sudden alignment of these knowledges makes me surprisingly calm. And the decision is clear. I had always thought that this would be a difficult, emotional, and conflicted moment. I had broken up with my long-term boyfriend because he didn’t want children and I did. But my thought process is simple - this is not going to happen. I am not doing this on my own at this point in time. I am not involving someone who lives far away. It would be unfair. Going through with this would make everything unnecessarily difficult. Meeting someone. Work. Life. I am not ready to do this alone.

Decision made. Clear. Certain. No vacillation. Easy.

Not easy. I am home. I am in Ireland. I am here for a month. Ireland doesn’t believe in abortion. Ireland believes in the foetus. Abortion is illegal. It is unconstitutional.

And not only that, it is all over the news. On every radio station, on every Irish TV station, people are having ludicrous conversations on the subject. This will become the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act (which allows an abortion if there is a substantial risk to the life of the mother, including suicide). The debates are mind-numbing - how many professionals need to assess her, what constitutes risk to life - and mainly highlights how little the state trusts women. The debates make me feel insane. I walk out of rooms a lot. I am not suicidal but forcing me to continue with this pregnancy will not be good for my mental health. My life is not at risk but I still deserve to choose what happens to my body.

I need to decide if I travel to England and get it over and done with, or, wait out the month and have it done back in Canada. This current geography would pin my womb to the land.

My friend is amazing. She tells me her miscarriage wasn’t a miscarriage. The pregnancy was not viable. But because she lives in Ireland, and Ireland worships the foetal heartbeat, the doctors tell her that she will just have to wait. To let things happen naturally. It could take weeks, months. Her doctor gives her information about abortion options in England. The Irish health system is done with her. She is alone.

She travelled to Liverpool with her mother, she tells me, back and forth in one day. The return journey is horrendous, she says. Dizzy and bleeding in an airport queue.

I remember a trip to Liverpool a few years ago, to visit a friend. We eat and drink our way up and down Lark Lane. Towards the end of the night a group of incredible local women adopt us. When they hear our accents they tell us about the Irish women who came to Liverpool by ferry for their abortions. “We used to call them the empties”, they say, “when they were on their way back.”

My friend gives me all the information. I sit on the bottom step of the stairs her house, staring at the stained glass in her front door, and dial the number of the clinic in Liverpool. The voice on the other end is kind yet business-like. She asks me a series of questions. Tells me that I am 5 weeks pregnant - explains that it’s dated from your last period, which seems odd to me. But I am now in a world where nothing makes sense. When she asks for my address, there is a slight pause. She explains that there is a separate price list for Irish women. They recognise that we have extra costs so there is a reduced rate. I try not to cry. England doesn’t need to care about us. I concentrate on breathing, listening to kids shrieking on the street outside. I explain that I live in Canada, that it will be covered by my healthcare card, but I would have to wait a month. I love her calmness. The matter-of-factness. She has been through this a million times. Has talked to girls like me before. Nothing shocks her. She thinks that I can wait. The pregnancy will still be very early. I won’t have to travel after the procedure. I can return to the comfort of my own bed. I won’t have to explain anything to anyone. I won’t have to postpone the paper I am scheduled to give. I am slightly relieved with this decision. The thought of booking a flight, finding someone to go with, travelling, all seem like too much. I am lucky. I have other options. Canada will look after me.

But now I have to be pregnant for a month.

My friend and I are sickly pregnant together. We sit together nauseously on her sofa, eating toast and Tracker bars, and watching the entire first season of The Killing. I don’t know what I would do without her. I hide from everyone.

I am fascinated by my body. Everything smells different. My appetites have completely altered. It’s as if a switch has been flicked and everything has been rewired. Alcohol makes me gag, especially wine. Beer is almost tolerable because I am always thirsty. I really can’t drink enough orange juice. I pee all the time. Even my pee smells different. Dense or complicated. If I don’t eat regularly I am nauseous, and I am almost always nauseous. White bread is my saviour, toast is a miracle. I can’t look at vegetables. I can’t even think about fish. I have never known tiredness like this.

The world divides into people I will tell and people I can’t. This isn’t necessarily a judgement on them, more a self-protection strategy. My family fall into this latter category but not because I think they are anti-choice. I just can’t deal with the emotions of telling them. It is too much, too scary. The people I do tell are wonderful.

I stand in front of 30 people at the symposium. I try not to puke. I listen with detached interest to my friend and another woman discuss their pregnancies over the coffee break. I know I won’t get that far so I smile and nod in wonder. I sneakily eat the stash of Tracker bars in my bag. Constant eating of food that I would normally avoid seems to be the key. I am craving a Big Mac - I have not eaten one in about ten years. My pants are already getting tight.

I can manage Dublin. I can hide in my friend’s house. I can talk to the few people I can talk to about this. I maintain a mode of wry humour about the whole thing. Except for when I want to scream at Ireland. Sometimes I want to cry. I want to be as far away as possible. I want my body back. I want to scratch at the walls. I want to be empty.

It gets difficult when I go home to see family. Nobody knows at home. I’ll just have to brave this one out. I’ll have to fool my mum although mums have a sixth sense when something is up. This will be hard.

I want to talk about abortion all the time and I want to ignore it. I am drawn to the demented radio coverage and I can’t bear it. I don’t want to tell my family but I want to know their opinions. So for this I am grateful to the constant debates about it on the news. Mum is a physiotherapist and is practical and medical about it. I wonder how she would feel if she knew my plan. I think she would be ok - I feel sure that had this happened to us in our teens she would have shepherded us to England. She wanted more for us. But now I’m in my thirties. And mum wants grandkids. So I don’t want to worry her. Or complicate her hopes for my future.

She is delighted that I am home. She proudly presents a Jamie Oliver fish bake to me for my first meal. Even the thought of fish is making me gag. I pick around the edges. She notices. She wonders if I have a bladder infection because I pee even more than usual - and usual is a lot at the best of times. She watches me from the side of her eye when I say, “No, I don’t really want a glass of wine. I think I’ll go to bed before you. Jet lag.” I promise to go to the doctor about the bladder infection when I go back.

A member of my extended family is a pro-lifer. She has been campaigning. We go to visit her. My mum and sister are adept at changing the subject. A part of me wants to have this out. I want her to know that this person sitting in her kitchen, drinking her tea, has been failed by people like her. That I’m unnecessarily forced to be pregnant for a month. That my case isn’t even that traumatic. I have not been raped. My life is not under threat. I am not being forced to carry a foetus with a fatal abnormality. I’m having a termination and it will be the best thing for me. And there will be no guilt. No shame. But, of course, I drink my tea and smile blandly at her religion because she is family. I wonder if she would do the same for me, knowing my decision. Inside I’m screaming.

I remember going to the doctor for a morning-after pill in my early 20s, while at university. I remember the barrage of questions about my sexual life, I remember the judgement. I especially remember the female doctor, hesitant to prescribe the pill, asking, “Would you not just take a chance?” “No,” I reply. “No, I will not take a chance. Because if the chance goes wrong, the consequences are too big.” I have always worried about the other girls she might have said this to.

I fly back to Canada after a month of enduring this pregnancy and the abortion debates. I have never been more glad to see the back of Ireland. My abortion is scheduled for the day after I arrive. I go on my own, which is fine. The waiting room is quiet. No one speaks to each other. There is another woman about my age and two younger girls, one of whom is clearly the friend. A young couple come in but there is some complication about their healthcare. They leave. I worry about them.

Everyone in the clinic is lovely. The counsellor that I have to speak to is kind and non-judgemental. She runs through a questionnaire. I am brought into the surgery. It is bright and clean. The doctor is also kind and non-judgemental. I lie on the surgical table, thick with nerves and anticipated relief. There is a map on the ceiling. I feel thankful to the clinic for providing something to look at, even if it mainly makes me look at my small, conservative island whose geography is such a prison.

I worry that I will see the scan. But it is turned away from my view. The doctor tells me I’m 8 weeks pregnant. The nurse administers laughing gas and an intravenous painkiller. Laughing gas is miraculous. I feel nothing. I can hardly remember being escorted to a recovery bed but the bed feels wonderful, until it doesn’t anymore. They give me a cookie and some orange juice. A friend has taken some time off work to collect me - you cannot leave alone. I have left the clinic a bit too early and can’t stand for too long without feeling faint. My friend drops me at a pharmacy. I can’t stand long enough to receive the instructions from the pharmacist. She is strangely unconcerned about my dizziness. The 5-minute walk home takes a long time. But I mainly feel relieved. I do not have to endure airports or check-in queues or travelling. I am lucky.

It is more recovery than I expected. I sleep a lot. I have never been happier to see blood in the toilet. I am fascinated by the blood, its volume, its consistency. The blood is beautiful. It means that this is over. Each clot is a reminder.

I miss my Irish friends. The ones I’ve told understand what having an abortion means in the Irish context. It means, as Tara Flynn wrote, that you don’t talk about it, that you can’t even tell your amazing mother or your amazing family. This landscape of silence and stigma has distanced me from my family and I am not ok with that.

I tell people instead that I have bad jet lag or a bad cold or that I’m vaguely sick. The clinic has given me a sheet of paper explaining my procedure to give to a doctor for a check up. This feels weird. I cannot bring myself to hand this paper to a doctor. The Irish taboo around abortion makes me uneasy to see it written in black and white even though I have no guilt or shame about it. I never go for a check up.

A few months later I find myself teaching Ireland’s reproductive history, which is a regular topic in my courses. I have never been objective about the illegality of abortion and I am always newly angry about the X-case, Savita, and all the other women who have been failed by Ireland’s system. In a horrible irony, the Savita news broke the same day I taught this subject in 2012. Now I try hard not to get emotional. I hold myself together. My Canadian students give me succour - they are always indignant and confused, angry and shocked when they learn that abortion is still illegal in Ireland. They make me feel supported even though they don’t realise how personal this is. My body has lived this history. My body has suffered this geography.

A year later, abortion is all over the news in Ireland again. A suicidal pregnant asylum seeker is forced to have an early C-section as the state refuses her a termination. My reactions to this seem a bit exaggerated. I can’t stop crying.

Two years later I am on a plane home again. I am going home for Christmas. I am going home to meet my new niece for the first time. I am going home to tell my mother about my abortion because I am going to stand on the Abbey stage and tell the audience my story. I carry this annunciation with me through security, baggage claim, and customs. In the past few weeks I have told my sisters and my brother, siblings scattered all over the world. Their responses were all overwhelmingly positive. “We’re proud of you,” they say. “You have all our love and support.”

I don’t know why I couldn’t tell them. I do know why I didn’t tell them. Ireland.

My abortion was not remotely traumatic. But what was traumatic was the month I spent being unnecessarily pregnant in Ireland, feeling trapped and helpless, knowing that my country did not value me at all.

My abortion was absolutely the right decision for me. I have not regretted it for a second. My only regret is that I felt I couldn’t tell my family, ask for their support. Ireland made this impossible.

In one of the essays in her utterly necessary book Men Explain Things to Me, Rebecca Solnit writes, “The story of Cassandra, the woman who told the truth but was not believed, is not nearly as embedded in our culture as that of the Boy Who Cried Wolf - that is, the boy who was believed the first few times he told the same lie. Perhaps it should be.” In Ireland, we need to listen to the Cassandras.

Hysteria, hysteric, hysterical - those words for Cassandra-like women, all come from the Greek word for uterus, a condition thought to be caused by wandering wombs. In Ireland we still have hysterics, wombs made to wander, women whose stories are not listened to, women who are shamed into silence.

Over 5000 women a year are forced to wander their wombs out of Ireland. In the past 20 years that’s over 100,000 women. My story, and the stories of the wonderful Roisin Ingle and Tara Flynn and the brave women who are starting to speak are just drops in that ocean, that vast wave of Cassandras. It’s time to listen.

Susan Cahill is an Assistant Professor in Irish Literature at the School of Irish Studies, Concordia University, Montreal. She tweets @scahill

Source: http://www.irishtimes.com

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Singapore: Jail for man who tried to give ‘abortion pills’ to girl he had sex with

Photo: The Business Times

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The Straits Times | Elena Chong

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A deliveryman who tried to give "abortion pills" to a 15-year-old girl after getting her pregnant was jailed for 20 months yesterday.

Nuzul Shamil Kassim, 24, was arrested before he could give her the tablets, though the girl went through with an abortion of her own accord.
Shamil pleaded guilty to three counts of underage sex with the girl, who cannot be named, at his Jalan Tenteram flat in May and July last year. Seven other charges were taken into consideration.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Li Yihong told the court that Shamil met the secondary school student through a mutual friend some time in late April last year. They exchanged contact numbers and went out together with mutual friends a few times.

In the first week of May, she asked him to be her "boyfriend'' which he agreed to a few days later. Shamil later told police that he did so because he "pitied'' her.

Some time between May 11 and 22, he invited her to his home and introduced her to his sister as his girlfriend. When it got late, the girl decided to stay over at Shamil's home. She slept on the same mattress as Shamil, together with his younger sister and her boyfriend.

When everyone else in the household was asleep, he got on top of her and they started to kiss before having sex. DPP Li said that after this incident, the girl began going over to his home about once or twice a week for sex.

Shamil broke up with her on July 8. When she found out she was pregnant in August, he asked her to go for an abortion. He enlisted the help of his sister to buy "abortion pills'' but he was arrested before he could hand them to her.

DPP Li said Shamil had committed 10 offences over a short span of time, and did not even use a condom. She also highlighted the trauma the victim had to go through with an unwanted pregnancy. "His callous treatment of the victim and his assistance in providing these 'abortion pills'... must be taken as a reflection of his attitude towards the victim, and how little he was concerned about her welfare."

The maximum punishment for sex with a person under 16 years of age is 10 years' jail and a fine.

Source: news.asiaone.com

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Vatican says abortion is ‘illegitimate response’ to Zika virus

International bodies have called for a relaxation of abortion laws in response to the Zika virus. Photograph: Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images

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Church argues terminating pregnancies would confirm international community’s failure to contain disease

 

 

 

 

 

Harriet Sherwood Religion correspondent

Thursday 18 February 2016 14.08 GMT

Pregnant women exposed to the Zika virus and who may be carrying foetuses with serious brain defects should not be permitted to have abortions, the Vatican has said.

The Catholic church restated its opposition to abortion in all circumstances as women in South America are frantically trying to terminate pregnancies for fear of giving birth to babies with microcephaly, which gives them unusually small heads.

“Not only is increased access to abortion and abortifacients [abortion-inducing drugs] an illegitimate response to this crisis, but since it terminates the life of a child it is fundamentally not preventative,” the Vatican said.

The Holy See representative to the UN announced the Vatican’s response during the launch of a $65m (£45m) campaign by the World Health Organisation to tackle the spread of the Zika crisis. An estimated 4,000 babies have been born with microcephaly, which has been linked to their mothers becoming infected with the Zika virus by mosquito bites.

“It must be emphasised that a diagnosis of microcephaly in a child should not warrant a death sentence,” said Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Holy See’s permanent observer to the UN. Such a response would be “the confirmation of a failure of the international community to stop the spread of the disease”, he added.

Abortion is banned or highly restricted in many countries affected by the Zika crisis. Earlier this month, the Catholic church in Brazil – one of the worst affected countries – said it strongly opposed a move to permit abortions for pregnant women exposed to the Zika virus. “There is no justification to defend abortion,” it said.

Governments in several countries have advised women to delay getting pregnant for up to two years, while international bodies have urged a relaxation of abortion bans in the face of the crisis.

A Canadian group which supplies advice and abortion pills to women has reported a big increase in online requests from women in South America. Women on Web said it had received more than 1,000 emails begging for abortion-inducing medication such as mifepristone and misoprostol from women in countries where the drugs are banned.

“Women who are pregnant and suspect that they have had Zika just don’t want to take the risks of having a microcephalic baby. Our worry is that these women will turn to unsafe abortion methods, while we can help them with a safe, medical abortion,” Rebecca Gomperts, the group’s founder, told the Washington Post.

One email said: “I contacted Zika 4 days ago. I just found out I’m about 6 weeks pregnant. Today. Today, I found out I’m pregnant. I have a son I love dearly. I love children. But I dont believe it is a wise decision to keep a baby who will suffer. I need an abortion. I don’t know who to turn to. Please help me ASAP.”

Source: http://www.theguardian.com

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Caesarean section in the late second trimester as an alternative to a refused abortion: an unethical and clinically unjustifiable practice

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Blog, by Marge Berer
https://bererblog.wordpress.com/

In 2013, I published a paper about the death of Savita Halappanavar in Ireland, who died completely unnecessarily from uterine sepsis during pregnancy. Her death was due to the refusal of the Catholic-run hospital providing her maternity care to terminate her 17-week non-viable pregnancy, apparently because there was still a fetal heartbeat. In that paper, I said that termination of pregnancy to save a woman’s life, which is legal in all but 5-6 countries globally, should be understood to mean “to prevent a pregnancy from becoming life-threatening before it is already life-threatening...One would have thought that that includes termination to complete an inevitable miscarriage and to end an unviable pregnancy, both of which could easily become septic ‒ as well as termination when the woman has or develops a life-threatening illness while pregnant.”

In that paper, I was concerned only about unviable pregnancies and saving the life of the woman involved. I did not take into account what I believe is a newly developed policy among some Catholic physicians to act to save the life of the fetus, not just the woman, as their main or only basis for action. Since 2012, several new cases have come to light that suggest what appears to be a new way to refuse a woman an abortion before the pregnancy goes to term or ends spontaneously in a miscarriage.

These are cases where the pregnant woman (or girl) is not seen to be at immediate risk of dying, is kept in hospital until such time as the pregnancy is viable in the late second trimester, and is then “offered” or forced to have a caesarean section as an alternative to carrying the pregnancy to term ‒ in order to “save the unborn baby”. Ironically, as far as the baby is concerned, the earlier in pregnancy it is delivered, the more risk there will be to its life. The failure of the anti-abortion proponents of such a policy reveals not only how little they value the life of the girl/woman involved but also how profoundly uninterested they seem to be in whether the “unborn baby” has the best chance of staying alive, let alone being healthy.

This paper describes five such cases, from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Ireland, Paraguay, and most recently a bill tabled in February 2016 in the Alaska USA state legislature. It argues that the denial of the abortions concerned is unethical, violates a woman’s right to health, and deserves to be condemned just as much as cases in which the woman is left to die rather than being allowed an induced abortion. The Alaska bill requires doctors to terminate pregnancies in such a way that the fetus has the best chance to be born alive.

Two cases from Costa Rica: old style vs. new style
Two cases from Costa Rica show how the change in practice has manifested itself. In 2007, a 27-year old Costa Rican woman with an anencephalic pregnancy was refused an abortion and forced to carry the pregnancy to term. After seven hours of labour, she gave birth to a dead baby. According to a report by the Colectivo por el Derecho de Decidir in Costa Rica, as a result of this experience she was still fighting depression, anxiety attacks, chronic diarrhoea, and social withdrawal in 2013.

In 2012, “Aurora”, also from Costa Rica, was a very different case. The Colectivo por el Derecho de Decidir reported that Aurora, aged 32, became pregnant after months of trying. However, at eight weeks of pregnancy, the doctors informed her that the fetus had multiple severe malformations that would not allow it to survive outside the uterus, including severe scoliosis, decreased level of amniotic fluid, and a complete absence of abdominal wall, which meant the internal organs (e.g. liver and intestines) were sitting outside the body. Further tests confirmed the diagnosis of a non-viable pregnancy. A little after her first appointment, Aurora started experiencing strong abdominal and back pain that prevented her from working and seriously affected her physical and emotional health. She described “in addition to the physical pain, the stress and suffering resulting from the news, which has provoked constant sadness, depression, severe stress, insomnia, nightmares, and constant tears”. She requested an abortion numerous times. However, the medical professionals and medical authorities in Costa Rica repeatedly denied her the right to a therapeutic abortion, even though it is permitted under Costa Rican law, Article 121. When she was 29 weeks pregnant, her waters broke, and then she was “allowed” to have a caesarean section.

The offer or rather imposition of a caesarean section on a woman who has asked for an abortion, following the denial of the abortion, is a new phenomenon, and it is happening in more countries than just Costa Rica.

A case in El Salvador
Abortion is illegal in El Salvador, even to save the life of the woman. In June 2013, “Beatriz”, 22 years old, underwent a caesarean section at 27 weeks of pregnancy, giving birth to a baby without a brain, who died five hours later. The previous week, having delayed a decision, the country’s Supreme Court had refused to allow an abortion for Beatriz. Her plight drew international attention and a ruling from the Inter-American Court on Human Rights, which said that El Salvador should protect her life and help her to end the pregnancy. As far as the Health Ministry was concerned, that is what they did.

The Health Ministry said it would allow a caesarean section because the pregnancy was already at 26 weeks, and the country’s strict abortion laws (which it seems do not consider an abortion to be an abortion by that stage) were no longer at play. Thus they felt they had done what the Human Rights Court asked. This is not the case. A caesarean section is not an induced abortion even if it terminates the pregnancy. One of the main aims of a caesarean section is to deliver a live baby as a form of emergency obstetric care ‒ unless the baby is already dead. Ensuring the woman survives the pregnancy is the other aim, of course.

In early April 2013 doctors advised Beatriz that continuing her pregnancy was very high risk, so she requested an abortion. Yet the Health Ministry was reported as saying it could determine what was most medically sound for “the mother versus the unborn baby”, and a news report at the time claimed they were lauded internationally for working to save her life, though lauded by whom is not clear.

“Doctors at the Maternity Hospital,” it was reported, “had been preparing to perform the c-section at the slightest danger signs to save Beatriz’s life, said Maria Isabel Rodriguez of the Health Ministry. A majority of judges on the high court rejected the appeal by Beatriz’s lawyers, saying physical and psychological exams by the government-run Institute of Legal Medicine found that her diseases were under control and that she could continue the pregnancy.”

Beatriz was as good as imprisoned in the hospital and unable to care for her 20-month-old son for some two months while this went on. Compounding the emotional stress during her hospitalization, anti-choice groups managed to contact her by phone to attempt to convince her to change her mind about requesting an abortion. They offered to move her from the under-funded and overcrowded public maternity hospital to an exclusive private hospital, which they described as equivalent to a five-star hotel, and to take care of all her expenses. The most inhumane episode occurred when an anti-choice group brought Beatriz a basket of baby clothes, including small knitted caps to cover the head of the unviable fetus she was carrying.

The Health Ministry’s claim that she was in safe hands was patently false and their description of the c-section as a “premature delivery”, when the baby had no chance of survival, was appalling. What could possibly have gone on in the minds of people working in health who were so dismissive of this woman’s life, let alone her physical and mental health and well-being? Why did they consider they owed a duty of care to a fetus that had no sentience, no life and no chance of life?

A clue to their answer may be found in a comment made by an anti-abortion spokesperson who claimed that “the rights of all had been respected”, and that “it wasn't necessary to perform an abortion, the point was to respect the baby's life and to give Beatriz the care and the right to health that she deserved.”

In fact, three months after the caesarean section, Beatriz was struggling daily with poor health resulting from the denial of an early abortion, while trying to rebuild a life for herself and her son in a poor rural area. Although she was holding her own when she was interviewed by RH Reality Check, her future, both short- and long-term, was uncertain because of permanent health problems, including aggravated lupus and kidney disease. Where was the hospital and the anti-abortion movement for her then?

Forcing a woman to deliver a live baby against the woman’s wishes: Ireland
In Ireland, under the new law brought in following Savita’s death, the only time a woman can legally have an abortion is if her life is at risk.

Ms Y: the cruellest story of them all
Ms Y, a young asylum seeker, had been raped in her country of origin and found she was pregnant when she was about eight weeks gone, not long after arriving in Ireland. She immediately expressed a desire to die rather than bear the rapist’s child. She was referred to the Irish FPA for help to go to England for an abortion but although the details of what happened are not clear, it must have taken some 8 weeks to try and arrange everything, and by then she would have had to pay for a second trimester abortion. The cost was too high and she could not afford it. At that point, being 16 weeks pregnant, it was reported that she attempted to take her own life. A friend advised her to go to her GP and get help. The GP referred her to a hospital, where she saw two psychiatrists and was then taken to another hospital. There she had a scan and was apparently told the pregnancy was 24 weeks and one day, as if such accuracy were feasible. They said they could not do an abortion that late. She said: “You can leave me now to die. I don’t want to live in this world anymore.”

After that, she said she was watched all the time, and she stopped eating and drinking. A doctor came and told her they would do an abortion in several days but that she had to start eating and drinking, so she did. Then, she was told the plan had changed and they couldn’t do it. This happened more than once until, finally, they claimed that because she was too far gone, they could only do a caesarean section. She said: “They said wherever you go in the world, the United States, anywhere, at this point it has to be a caesarean. That was of course a lie, but she didn’t know that at the time.

A spokeswoman for the Health Service Executive (HSE), when asked about the allegation that Ms Y was not offered a right to appeal the decision to carry out a caesarean section, said her request for a termination on the basis of suicide risk had been acceded to. Her words were that “a pregnancy can be terminated by way of delivery through caesarean section, as it was in this instance.” Thus, caesarean section is magically turned into an abortion method, even though what they had done was to force her to accept the delivery of a live baby. Moreover, the spokeswoman said that as they had acceded to Ms Y’s request for a termination, there was no requirement for a review of what had happened.

In short, they said they could not do an abortion, and then afterwards when they had forced her to accept the early delivery of a live baby, they claimed they had done an abortion. George Orwell would have been proud of the double-think.

Ms Y said: “When I came to this country I thought I could forget suffering… The scar [from the c-section] will never go away. It will always be a reminder. I still suffer. I don’t know if what has happened to me is normal… I just wanted justice to be done. For me, this is injustice.”

Saving the life of the baby against the wishes of a pregnant child’s mother: Paraguay
The case of the 10-year-old girl in Paraguay made international news in May 2015. The girl was apparently sexually abused by her stepfather for something like two years and became pregnant. Her mother took her to the hospital when she complained of stomach pains, and it was only discovered then that she was 20 weeks pregnant. Her mother claimed she had previously reported the sexual abuse to the police, but they had done nothing. She requested an abortion for her daughter, but this was refused. Instead, the mother was arrested and charged with conspiring in the sexual abuse. The stepfather was found some days later and also arrested. The little girl was kept in hospital until she reached 26 weeks of pregnancy and was then subjected to a caesarean section.

This case prompted a national debate in Paraguay about the prevalence of child sexual abuse and underage pregnancies, but the focus was it seems more on stopping adult sexual violence than the right of sexually abused girls to a safe abortion. The Guardian reported that the Clinicas hospital has recently reported almost 400 pregnancies in girls under the age of 16 years which they said had gone to term without complications. The gynaecologist in charge of the 10-year-old’s case said in a press release that he was surprised at the fuss because the previous year a nine-year-old girl had given birth.

Nonetheless, the case led to a large demonstration in the country’s capital, Asunción, and other parts of the country, as well as a worldwide protest. For example, the UN Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice, composed of five independent experts from all regions of the world, made the following statement regarding this case:

“The Paraguayan authorities’ decision results in grave violations of the rights to life, to health, and to physical and mental integrity of the girl as well as her right to education, jeopardising her economic and social opportunities.

“Despite requests made by the girl’s mother and medical experts to terminate this pregnancy, which puts the girl’s life at risk, the State failed to take measures to protect the health as well as the physical and mental integrity and even the life of the 10-year old girl. No proper interdisciplinary and independent expert assessment with the aim to insure the girl’s best interests was done before overturning life-saving treatments, including abortion.
“According to the World Health Organization, child pregnancies are extremely dangerous for the health of pregnant girls as they can lead to complications and death in some cases, especially as girls’ bodies are “not fully developed to carry a pregnancy.

“In Latin America, in particular, the UN reports that the risk of maternal death is four times higher among adolescents under 16 years old with 65% of cases of obstetric fistula occurring in the pregnancies of adolescents. In addition, early pregnancies are also dangerous for the babies with a mortality rate 50% higher.”

On 23 June 2015, it was reported that the doctors in Paraguay had finally acknowledged it would be too risky for this little girl’s health to allow her pregnancy to go to term. Having refused to do an abortion, they too did a caesarean section when she was more than six months pregnant. Both children survived the operation. What the future holds for either of them is uncertain, especially if the girl’s mother is kept in jail.

Caesarean section as an alternative to a refused abortion: a coincidence or an emerging policy? Developed by whom?
Overall, I believe that the cases summarised here, even though there are only four, could not have happened coincidentally in such a short space of time. There is actual policy under Guidance for health professionals in the Irish Protection of Life during Pregnancy Act 2013 (clause 6.4), 19th September 2014. The text reads as follows:

6.4 Gestational age
“An important consideration in relation to the carrying out of the medical procedure is the issue of the gestational age of the unborn. There is no time limit imposed by the Act in carrying out the medical procedure. However, the Act legally requires doctors to preserve unborn human life as far as practicable without compromising the woman’s right to life. Therefore, there is no specific stage of pregnancy below which the certifying doctor will not have to consider the possibility of preserving the life and the dignity of the unborn where practicable without compromising the life of the mother.

“Once certification has taken place, a pregnant woman has a right to a termination of pregnancy as soon as it can be arranged. The clinicians responsible for her care will need to use their clinical judgment as to the most appropriate procedure to be carried out, in cognisance of the constitutional protection afforded to the unborn, i.e. a medical or surgical termination or an early delivery by induction or Caesarean section.

“Following certification, if the pregnancy is approaching viability, it is recommended that a multidisciplinary discussion takes place to ascertain the most appropriate clinical management of the case.”

This, in turn is in line with the 8th Amendment to the Irish Constitution, which is in line with Catholic health doctrine related to pregnancy, abortion and “protection of life”:

“The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.” (Article 40.3.3°, Irish Constitution)

Taking this one step further, we can refer to a 2012 statement from the Standing Committee of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference:

“Whereas abortion is the direct and intentional destruction of an unborn baby and is gravely immoral in all circumstances, this is different from medical treatments which do not directly and intentionally seek to end the life of the unborn baby. Current law and medical guidelines in Ireland allow nurses and doctors in Irish hospitals to apply this vital distinction in practice while upholding the equal right to life of both a mother and her unborn baby.”
(Standing Committee, Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference Statement, November 2012)

Cases have now “popped up” in four different countries within a few years of each other, when formerly this practice was completely unheard of. Is the main link between them, as occurred with cases like Savita’s, which was also not a unique case, a recent (and as yet unwritten) addition to Catholic health policy? I suspect that this policy was developed in order to avoid being held responsible for more deaths like Savita’s. However, as an alternative to forcing a woman to go to term after denying her request for an abortion, it “allows” an unwanted pregnancy to be ended earlier, but is nevertheless an abuse of the purpose of a caesarean section and of the woman’s decision not to deliver a live baby.

A c-section is an emergency procedure whose primary aims are to deliver a live baby to a live woman. Abortion is intended to prevent a live baby being born to a live woman. While the pregnancy is ended in both cases, these two procedures have nothing else in common. This policy, whoever thought it up, is a new, unethical form of imposing an unwanted medical procedure on girls and women to avoid providing an abortion. It is occurring in some of the same Catholic church-dominated countries and health systems where a safe abortion is practically unobtainable for all but rich women. While the USA does not fit this description, there are many anti-abortion politicians who would like to make it that way.

The recently tabled bill in the USA
It is likely that what appears to have been the individual treatment of a few women actually reflects or has become a new policy. That at least is what seems to have happened with the bill tabled in the Alaska USA state legislature this month, which contains a requirement that doctors terminate pregnancies “in a way that affords ‘the best opportunity for the unborn child to survive’ after the procedure, without jeopardizing the woman’s life” ‒ and at the same time also “mandates Alaska physicians to judge if a fetus is viable and outlaws abortion care in those cases”. This bill has just been published. It cannot be a coincidence that the language is so similar to the language in the Irish law and policy. Information about its intended clinical consequences is needed, and its implications need further analysis. The bill makes exceptions to the restriction in cases of incest or sexual assault, or if “the abortion is medically necessary.” Is it calling for pre-viable pregnancies to be aborted in such a way that the fetus can survive? Or does it intend only that in the case of viable fetuses, efforts to save the fetus must be made? In either case, doesn’t this inevitably mean by caesarean section?? Moreover, the bill says: “fetuses that are ‘born alive’ can be turned over to the state’s care under its ‘children in need of aid’ provision”. The implications are mind boggling.

There is no information that I know of, of who is behind these policies. They cannot be ignored, however, as they represent yet another twisted form of trying to deny women abortions.

I would welcome information from anyone who has any evidence of where this is coming from, or from anyone who has a different theory about why these cases have appeared, particularly now that this legislation has suddenly emerged in the USA.

References

  1. Berer M. Termination of pregnancy as emergency obstetric care: the interpretation of Catholic health policy and the consequences for pregnant women. An analysis of the death of Savita Halappanavar in Ireland and similar cases. Reproductive Health Matters 2013. http://www.rhm-elsevier.com/article/S0968-8080(13)41711-1/pdf.
  2. Knight Shine N. Alaska GOP: Doctors should try to save fetuses during abortions. RH Reality Check. 16 February 2016. http://rhrealitycheck.org/article/2016/02/16/alaska-gop-doctors-try-save-fetuses-abortions/?&utm_medium=email&utm_source=reality&utm_content=4+-+Alaska+GOP+Doctors+Should+Try+to+Save+Fe&utm_campaign=daily-enews-2-17-2016&source=daily-enews-2-17-2016.
  3. http://safe-abortion-womens-right.tumblr.com/post/39475005027/costa-rica-acci%C3%B3n-urgente-para-ayudar-a-aurora. 2 January 2013.
  4. Ill Salvadoran woman denied abortion has c-section. Associated Press, 3 June 2013. http://safe-abortion-womens-right.tumblr.com/post/53840867560/beatriz-in-el-salvador-has-a-caesarean-section.
  5. Baby born to El Salvador woman denied abortion dies after C-section, Guardian, 4 June 2013. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/04/baby-el-salvador-woman-abortion-dies.
  6. Bougher K. El Salvador: no longer a front-page story, ‘Beatriz’ continues to struggle from denial of abortion care. RH Reality Check. 26 September 2013. http://rhrealitycheck.org/article/2013/09/26/no-longer-a-front-page-story-beatriz-continues-to-struggle-from-denial-of-abortion-careberate-in-salvadoran-society/.
  7. Berer M. Does a C-section make it OK for Beatriz in El Salvador? 01 June 2013. http://safe-abortion-womens-right.tumblr.com/post/53839227861/does-a-c-section-make-it-ok-for-beatriz-in-el.
  8. Holland K, Mac Cormaic R. They said they could not do an abortion. I said, ‘You can leave me now to die. I don’t want to live in this world anymore’. Irish Times, 19 August 2014. http://www.irishtimes.com/news/health/they-said-they-could-not-do-an-abortion-i-said-you-can-leave-me-now-to-die-i-don-t-want-to-live-in-this-world-anymore-1.1901258.
  9. Holland K, Mac Cormaic R. Woman in abortion case tells of suicide attempt. Irish Times, 19 August 2014. http://www.irishtimes.com/news/health/woman-in-abortion-case-tells-of-suicide-attempt-1.1901256.
  10. Paraguay march poised to draw record crowd after 10-year-old denied abortion. Guardian. 28 May 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/28/paraguay-abortion-child-rape-protest.
  11. UN experts deplore Government’s failure to protect 10-year-old rape survivor. 11 May 2015. http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=50826#.VVGJZ9pVhBc.
  12. 11-year-old Paraguay girl ‒ denied abortion after rape ‒ pregnancy to be induced. 23 June 2015. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/southamerica/paraguay/11694009/11-year-old-Paraguay-girl-denied-abortion-after-rape-to-be-induced.html.

 

Tags: denial of abortion, USA, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Ireland, Paraguay, Catholic church

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German late abortion drama brings Berlinale to tears

Julia Jentsch and Bjarn Mädel in 24 Weeks. Photo: DPA

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The Local de

"24 Weeks", a harrowing German drama about a couple struggling to decide whether to have a late-term abortion, moved the audience to tears at its Berlin film festival premiere Sunday.

The film by Anne Zohra Berrached, 33, tackles a thorny issue in a country in which, according to the producers, more than 90 percent of parents terminate pregnancies in which the foetus is severely disabled. The subject, however, is rarely discussed.

The picture, set in ex-communist east Germany, tells the story of a cabaret performer and her manager husband who already have one child and learn she is pregnant with a second.

However the pair, Astrid and Markus, discover during a prenatal examination that the child will have Down syndrome. Later, in the sixth month of pregnancy, they hear that the boy has congenital heart problems that will require multiple surgeries he may not survive.

Teams of specialists, all played by actual doctors, offer advice to the couple based on their medical expertise. But they leave the parents to wrestle with the complex ethical questions about whether to have the child.

The film presents a society in which religion hardly plays a role but where the abuses under Adolf Hitler, in which 300,000 ill and disabled people were systematically murdered by the Nazis, loom large.

When a babysitter speaks critically of severely disabled children and wonders aloud whether their lives are worth living, Astrid attacks her as a "fascist".

The weight of the choice begins to strain the couple's marriage and their relationship with Astrid's mother, who moves into care for their daughter.

"It was very important for me to do a film which concerns primarily the conflict of making a decision as a couple," Berrached told reporters.

"That's what I wanted to focus on. I didn't want to do a segment for a television news show or something like that."

Berrached, who finished the picture as part of earning her film degree, said the team had spoken to three women who had faced similar choices.

The filmmakers admitted after a well-received press preview that the subject remained a taboo in Germany and could scare off potential distributors in more socially conservative countries such as Poland and Italy.

Astrid is played by Julia Jentsch, 37, who won the festival's Silver Bear best actress prize in 2005 for her turn as a Nazi resistance martyr in "Sophie Scholl - The Final Days".

Critics said she could also be a frontrunner for acting honours this year on awards night Saturday, when a jury led by actress Meryl Streep hands out the prizes.

Source: http://www.thelocal.de

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From abortion to sex work, why the state shouldn’t control women’s bodies

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New Statesman, By Frankie Mullin

Behind the opposition to decriminalise both abortion and sex work lies the belief that some women are incapable of physical autonomy

Last week, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), alongside key women’s organisations, launched a campaign to decriminalise abortion. Across the UK, abortion is still governed by a piece of Victorian legislation that, outside rigid conditions, renders it a criminal offence.

Punitive law decreases safety, says BPAS. In this, the campaign resembles that led by Amnesty International last year, which called for the decriminalisation of sex work.

In both campaigns, cries for decriminalisation, bodily autonomy for women and anyone with a womb were at stake. Yet one was met with wholehearted support, while the other provoked fury.

In 2007, when Amnesty suggested that abortion should be removed from criminal law, a furious coalition of Catholic bishops claimed the charity was risking its "excellent record as a champion of human rights". Roll on to the sex work campaign of 2015 and the organisation was accused of the same, this time by a number of feminist groups (and the politically-astute Meryl Streep).

 

Does the crossover make you uncomfortable? Because crossover there is.

Behind the opposition to decriminalise both abortion and sex work lies the belief that some people – and both abortion and sex work are associated primarily with women, so specifically, some women – are incapable of physical autonomy, that their choices are so socially harmful, so deluded, they must be legislated against.

In both cases, abolitionists refuse to listen to those whose lives are at stake: the sex workers, and the abortion activists.

 

Feminists have traditionally united to fight for reproductive rights, but there is division even here. Last year, the Telegraph carried out a "sting", which highlighted the – in reality, virtually non-existent – problem of gender-selective abortion. Should the practice be illegal? No, say groups such as Abortion Rights UK, labelling gender-selective abortion coercion an issue of domestic violence, not of reproductive health.

“Criminalising ‘types’ of abortion is not the answer,” says the organisation. “This is punishing women for gender inequality in society.”

As with abortion – and with surrogacy, another bone of contention – so with sex work. Under capitalism, almost every form of labour reflects and is shaped by social inequality. Yet there’s no call to ban, for instance, the cleaning industry, which props up class, race and gender hierarchies.

Simply surviving can be a feminist act, can be "empowering" – that elusive, largely useless concept – but it isn’t always. Not every choice we make will fit within our dreams of political utopia. No one is claiming that agency always equals feminism. However, the removal of it, the demand for state intervention in women’s choices, is deeply anti-feminist. There’s nothing radical about denying us agency over our bodies.

 

A view of the state as a responsible arbiter of justice, and of the police as a benign force for good, is one that comes from a place of privilege. For many people, it simply isn’t the case.

Abolitionists who support the criminalisation claim to be protecting the vulnerable – unborn babies, trafficked women – but by allowing the state increased access, the outcome is yet more danger.

BPAS points out that those who are unable to access abortion on the NHS, even in England and Wales, tend to be migrants, women experiencing domestic violence, and the underage. These are the groups most at risk from criminalisation. Buying abortion pills online and carrying out a DIY home abortion is illegal.

Similarly, police have been shown to disproportionately target migrant and drug-using sex workers. Increasing law enforcement – for instance, by criminalising the buying of sex, as Northern Ireland has done – has been condemned by leading human rights organisations around the globe. In neither Norway nor Sweden, pioneers of the “end demand” model, has trafficking decreased. The inverse relationship between safety and police involvement is felt more keenly still in the Global South and East.

Feminists of carceral inclination will find an ally in Conservative MP Fiona Bruce, who led 2015’s campaign to ban gender-selective abortion and is now crusading to criminalise the buying of sex. While her surface sentiment – to protect women – is laudable, what underlies it is less pleasant.

Since 2010, Bruce’s party in government has slashed 50 per cent from domestic violence and sexual abuse services. Tory cuts have been repeatedly shown to hit women the hardest. Why then the special attention to abortion and sex work? Perhaps both are violations of the sacred family unit. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that both Bruce’s campaigns neatly align with her party’s anti-immigration agenda.

 

Sex work, surrogacy, DIY abortions – the controversial things we do with our bodies – may reflect inequalities, desperation sometimes, but they are not the inequality themselves.

In the US, the race gap in abortion (women of colour are five times as likely to terminate a pregnancy than white women) has been heavily exploited by pro-lifers. But the gap is the reflection of a problem – poverty and unequal access to resources – not the problem itself.

Human rights aren’t a hypothetical concept. Opposition to decriminalisation, built on subjective distaste, ignores the real, often imperfect, situations we find ourselves in.

Criminalisation feeds stigma, creates danger. Abortion may upset you, sex work may disgust you, but removing survival options will solve none of the inequality you claim to despise.

Source: http://www.newstatesman.com

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Religious protests have held back a new law, but momentum is gathering behind it

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The Economist

A new push to legalise early abortions in Sierra Leone

 

It is a familiar story. Women’s rights campaigners marshal scientific evidence and maternal health data. International declarations and regional treaties are invoked. Civil society is mobilised; a draft bill is tabled. Then comes the backlash.

In December, Sierra Leone’s parliament voted unanimously in favour of legislation that would legalise abortion at up to 12 weeks of pregnancy. Championed by President Ernest Bai Koroma’s wife, Sia Nyama Koroma, and strongly supported by Mr Koroma himself, the bill’s passage into law seemed all but assured. Women’s rights campaigners hailed it as a landmark moment in the country’s history and a model for the region. But on January 6th 2016 Mr Koroma did something unexpected: he refused to give the bill his assent. Disgruntled parliamentarians were asked to review the bill’s details; public consultations were scheduled. Abortion rights campaigners were shocked: “We didn’t even think there would be objections,” says Aisha Fofana Ibrahim of 50/50, a Sierra Leonean NGO.

That was to forget the lessons of the recent past. A similar fightback happened in Kenya prior to its constitutional reform of 2010, which provided for greatly expanded abortion access, and in Ethiopia in the run-up to its relatively liberal abortion law of 2005. Soon after the passage of South Africa’s 1996 abortion law, still the most progressive on the continent, right-to-life groups brought actions against the government, claiming it violated the constitution. In 2013, the governor of the Nigerian state of Imo apologised to Christians and repealed a law that, if implemented, would have legalised abortion for nearly any reason.

Mr Koroma’s initial refusal to sign Sierra Leone’s draft bill into law fitted with an established pattern of religious protest against abortion reform in the region. Under pressure from the country’s religious authorities—days after the parliamentary vote, Christian and Muslim leaders paid the president a visit—Mr Koroma backed down. “He got cold feet,” says Marge Berer of the International Campaign for Women’s Right to Safe Abortion, an NGO. She and others also suspect the involvement of American evangelical groups, and even a member of the US Congress, in the local anti-abortion movement. This, too, has precedents in countries such as Kenya and Ethiopia.

Much like the debate that surrounds homosexuality in many African countries, abortion-law reform in Sierra Leone and elsewhere on the continent tends to be framed by supporters and opponents alike in terms of the continent’s colonial legacy. Although there is ample evidence that abortion was practised in pre-colonial Africa—it was generally treated as a private rather than a public matter—religious, often Catholic, critics regard it as a foreign import. Anti-abortion campaigners in Sierra Leone, many of whom participated in a protest march in Freetown, the capital, on January 27th, said in a formal submission to parliament that “the Bill represents an ideology alien to the culture of this country”. Proponents of reform, on the other hand, argue that laws prohibiting abortion in Africa are the real product of colonialism, since almost all of them date back to colonial codes. In Sierra Leone, the existing law is the 1861 Offence against the Person Act, on the statute books in many of Britain’s former African colonies.

Despite the backlash, momentum has gathered behind Sierra Leone’s draft bill. “Everybody has been talking about it,” says Ufuoma Omo-Obi of Marie Stopes Sierra Leone, an NGO. Popular support has strengthened, especially since the country’s Muslim leaders, unlike the Catholic bishops, kept comparatively silent on the matter. Crucially, the debate’s religious dimensions have been overshadowed by public-health concerns: Sierra Leone has the highest maternal mortality ratio in the world, on a continent where almost all abortions are unsafe, in large part due to restrictive laws.

On February 11th, Sierra Leone’s parliamentarians decided to reaffirm their backing for the bill, returning it to the president unaltered. He is expected to sign it soon.

Successful implementation would make Sierra Leone a model for much of the continent. Across Africa, there are moves to liberalise abortion law: Malawi is set to debate a bill this year; Senegal may follow suit thereafter. This comes as the African Union has stepped up its drive to encourage decriminalisation: January 2016 saw the launch of its Campaign For The Decriminalisation Of Abortion In Africa, focused on tackling stigma. On a continent where abortion is still not permitted for any reason in 12 countries, this is progress.

Restrictive abortion laws do not prevent abortion; by the same token, liberal laws do not increase its incidence. But what legal status does affect, categorically, is its safety. Sierra Leone’s lawmakers should be cheered.

Source: http://www.economist.com

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Brazil’s Zika-Related Abortion Debate Sparks Backlash

Brazil and several other Latin American nations experiencing outbreaks have urged women to put off pregnancies. (AFP Photo)

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NDTV.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RIO DE JANEIRO:  Before her son was born, Danielle Alves didn't know Luiz Gustavo would have microcephaly, a condition that has left the 3-year-old so disabled he can't walk, talk or eat without help.

Still, Alves says she would have gone ahead with the pregnancy even if she had known - and she thinks thousands of pregnant women caught up in Brazil's Zika virus outbreak should be required to do the same.

"I know it's very difficult to have a special needs child, but I'm absolutely against abortion," said Alves, who lives in Vitoria da Conquista, a city in the impoverished northeastern region where Brazil's tandem Zika and microcephaly outbreaks have been centered.

Alarm in recent months over the Zika virus, which many researchers believe can cause microcephaly in the fetuses of pregnant women, has prompted calls, both inside and outside Brazil, to loosen a near-ban on abortion in the world's most populous Catholic country.

But the pro-choice push is creating a backlash, particularly among the families of disabled children. Many have taken to social media apps like Facebook and Whatsapp, where more than half of Brazil's 200 million people are connected, to make their case. They argue that all babies, including those with severe forms of microcephaly, have a right to be born.

The Catholic Church and Pentecostal faiths, strong forces in this deeply religious country, have also been fighting back.

"Abortion is not the answer to the Zika virus, we need to value life in whatever situation or condition it may be," Sergio da Rocha, the president of the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops, said earlier this week.

Abortion is illegal except in cases of rape, danger to the mother's life or anencephaly, another birth defect involving the brain - although in practice wealthy women in urban areas have relatively easy access to safe abortions in private clinics, while the poor often rely on dicey back-alley procedures.

The growing national debate is also spilling out into the courts, and will likely intensify in the months to come.

A judge in the central city of Goiania has said he will authorize abortions in severe cases of microcephaly. Some of the nation's top newspapers have also weighed in, running editorials urging abortion laws to be revisited.

"The most logical solution would be to revise the penal code relating to abortion, decriminalizing the practice. The legislation is three-quarters of a century old," the daily Folha de S. Paulo said in a recent editorial.

A prominent group of attorneys and psychologists is preparing a lawsuit calling for women infected with Zika during their pregnancies to be allowed to get legal abortions. The group, which in 2012 won an eight-year legal battle that succeeded in adding anacephaly to justifications for obtaining a legal abortion, hopes to take the suit before Brazil's Supreme Court early this year.

Before the outbreak, groups that support abortion groups were on the defensive following a proposal by the powerful Pentecostal lobby that would further restrict abortion access by adding additional hurdles for rape victims, such as getting an exam and filing a police report. The proposal has been approved by a House of Representatives committee, though its prospects in the full chamber are unclear.

When the first case of Zika was discovered in Brazil in the middle of last year, health officials here weren't unduly worried. First detected in a Ugandan forest in 1947, Zika has spread to parts of Asia and Oceania and is thought to have made the leap to Brazil through one or more infected tourists visiting the South American nation for the 2014 World Cup or perhaps an international canoeing tournament in Rio de Janeiro the same year.

It's spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, a common household pest that also transmits dengue and chikungunya. Zika is generally much milder, with only one out of five patients developing symptoms such as red eyes, a splotchy rash and fever.

A link to microcephaly has yet to be proven, but the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has pointed to strong evidence of a connection and urged pregnant women to avoid travel to 22 countries with active Zika outbreaks. The World Health Organization has declared an international health emergency.

Brazil and several other Latin American nations experiencing outbreaks have urged women to put off pregnancies. But critics say the recommendation is impractical in a region where access to sex education, contraception and pre-natal care is precarious and most pregnancies remain unplanned.

Sinara Gumieri, an attorney and legal counselor with the group that's preparing the lawsuit, said the abortion ban combined with the government's failure to eradicate the mosquito violate the right to health that's enshrined in Brazil's constitution.

"If tests confirm the virus (in a pregnant woman), she should then be given the right to choose between going through a high-risk prenatal period and pregnancy and give birth to her child or abort without fear of breaking the law," said Gumieri, of the Brasilia-based ANIS Institute of Bioethics.

Andressa Cristina dos Santos Cavagna, mother of a 3-year-old boy with a severe case of microcephaly, says abortion isn't the answer.

"Just because he is different from so-called normal children doesn't mean that he shouldn't be born," she said. "People who say that don't have love in their hearts."

Source: http://www.ndtv.com

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U.S.: What Antonin Scalia’s Death Means for the Supreme Court and the Country

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died Saturday at 79. Alex Wong/Getty

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Rolling Stone, by David S. Cohen

Among the significant implications of Scalia's death: For this term, 'Roe v. Wade' is safe

Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia died Saturday at age 79. Appointed in 1986 by President Ronald Reagan, Justice Scalia served on the Court for 29 years. He will long be remembered for his staunch conservative rulings as well as his vocal support for interpreting the Constitution according to its original understanding. In fact, to the extent that a good number of people today believe that originalism is the proper way to understand the Constitution, Justice Scalia can be thanked (or criticized) for that. His views on the subject were that influential.

Much will be written about his legacy in the coming days and weeks, but for now, the big question on everyone's minds is what this means — especially in a Supreme Court term with big issues like affirmative action, abortion, contraception, union rights and voting rights on the docket.

With a vacancy on the Court, the responsibility to fill it falls on President Obama and the Senate; pursuant to Article II, section 2 of the Constitution, the president nominates justices of the Supreme Court, and the Senate confirms them with a majority vote.

Enter bitter partisan politics, with a heaping dose of election-year dysfunction. In a normal situation, given the huge divide between President Obama and the Republican-controlled Senate, it would be very hard for Obama to get a Supreme Court justice confirmed. This year, though, Republicans are going to hope that they can push this off until they win the presidential election and can appoint their own replacement. In other words, there's very little incentive for the Republican Senate to move quickly.

And it's even more complicated than usual: If Justice Scalia is replaced with a liberal, that would tilt the Supreme Court to a 5-4 liberal majority (broadly speaking). Everyone in Washington knows this, meaning the stakes are even higher than they would be if a seat on the Court currently filled by a liberal were to open. The Democrats are salivating over this possibility; for Republicans, it's their greatest nightmare. They will fight President Obama's nominee tooth and nail, which means the seat could stay open for a long time.

So what happens to the cases currently before the Court? The Court will continue functioning, even with only eight Justices. Cases with five (or more) justices in the majority will have the same result as they would with nine justices.

But what about cases with an even split, which is now a real possibility? Four-four decisions are a strange beast in the Supreme Court; they are rare, but they have happened. And when they do, they result in the lower court's decision remaining the law, but there being no opinion from the Supreme Court and no nationwide effect.

For this term, what this means is that Roe v. Wade is safe. In the abortion case currently before the Court, the Texas federal appeals court found Texas' abortion restrictions constitutional. If Justice Kennedy, the swing vote, believes the restrictions are unconstitutional, the outcome would be the same now as before: a five-justice majority striking the law down (assuming the four liberals join him, which is a good assumption).

But if he decides the law is constitutional (and the four liberals think it's unconstitutional), that would result in a 4-4 decision. The appeals court decision would remain, which would mean the Texas restrictions could go into effect. This would be disastrous for the women of Texas. However, many people feared this case would be a vehicle for the Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. A 4-4 decision cannot do that. Roe is safe.

Affirmative action, though, remains on the chopping block. The case before the Supreme Court now involves the University of Texas' affirmative-action plan. The federal appeals court upheld the plan, finding it constitutional. Without Justice Scalia, there are now seven justices considering that case because Justice Kagan recused herself, having worked on the case before becoming a justice.

What this means is that the calculus from before is the same: Justice Kennedy will be the swing vote. However, this time it will be which side of a 4-3 decision he'll be on.

Every issue that has a likely liberal/conservative divide and is now pending before the Supreme Court has to be assessed in the same way. With the likelihood of an extended vacancy high, we will probably see a slew of 4-4 decisions coming our way.

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