10 July 2013

Sebastian Pinera supports Chile’s outright ban on abortion

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera has praised as “brave and mature” a pregnant 11-year-old rape victim who said she was happy to have the child.

The girl said during a TV interview the child would be “like having a doll”.

Experts criticised Mr Pinera’s comments as having no scientific foundation.

Mr Pinera supports Chile’s abortion laws, which outlaw the practice in all circumstances. His critics want it legalised in cases of rape, and want the girl to be allowed an abortion.

The 11-year-old girl appeared in a TV interview on Monday, saying: “I’m going to love the baby very much, even though it comes from that man who hurt me.

“It will be like having a doll in my arms.”

The girl was raped repeatedly over a two-year period by her mother’s boyfriend, who has since been arrested.

Mr Pinera said he had asked the health minister to personally look after the girl’s health.

“She surprised us all with words showing depth and maturity when she said that, despite the pain caused by the man who raped her, she wanted to have and take care of her baby,” he said.

Forensic psychologist Giorgio Agostini said the girl would not have the mental or emotional capacity to understand her situation.

“What the president is saying doesn’t get close to the psychological truth of an 11-year-old-girl,” he told the Associated Press news agency.

“It’s a subjective view that is not based on any scientific reasoning.”

The girl’s case has already sparked a public debate about abortion.

Campaigners argue that the laws, which date back to the authoritarian rule of Gen Augusto Pinochet, should be changed to allow for abortions in cases of rape or when the mother’s health is at risk.

Michelle Bachelet, the likely presidential candidate next year for the left-leaning opposition, supports the campaign.

Ms Bachelet earlier commented that the 11-year-old girl need to be protected.

“I think a therapeutic abortion, in this case because of rape, would be in order,” she said.

Chile is one of seven Latin American countries where abortion is completely banned.

Last month, the case of a seriously ill woman in El Salvador made international headlines when the courts upheld the ban on abortion even though the woman’s life was at risk and the foetus was unlikely to survive.

She was eventually allowed to have a caesarean section.

Latin America’s abortion laws

  • Outright ban in El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Chile, Honduras, Haiti, Suriname
  • Cuba, Guyana, Puerto Rico and Uruguay have most liberal laws
  • Brazil’s senate is currently debating legalisation of terminations during the first 12 weeks
  • More than 4 million abortions carried out each year
  • Between 1995-2008 some 95% were considered to be unsafe

Sources: World Health Organization, Guttmacher Institute




Summary and comment, Marge Berer, Reproductive Health Matters


This bill manages to allow abortion if a woman’s life is at risk while at the same time protecting the life of the fetus, as required in the Irish Constitution, and at the same time, meeting the conditions laid down by the European Court to legislate clearly on matters arising from previous court cases.


The bill allows abortiononly if there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother”, for example arising from a physical illness. It says that it is “not necessary for medical practitioners to be of the opinion that the risk to the woman’s life is inevitable or immediate, as this approach insufficiently vindicates the pregnant woman’s right to life”. However, it repeats often that there must be a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother.


It also says: “In circumstances where the unborn may be potentially viable outside the womb, doctors must make all efforts to sustain its life after delivery. However, that requirement does not go so far as to oblige a medical practitioner to disregard a real and substantial risk to the life of the woman on the basis that it will result in the death of the unborn.”


This appears to take particular account of what happened to Savita Halappanavar, as does the name of the bill.


It creates separate conditions for what to do if the woman is threatening suicide, including requiring at least three medical opinions as to whether to allow an abortion on this ground.


It makes it clear that legal abortion will be very rare. It allows a woman to appeal a decision against her but makes it extremely difficult to do so.


It allows for conscientious objection by individuals but NOT by institutions, which is important, and requires anyone objecting to find another medical professional to refer the woman to.


The bureacracy for medical professional control of the decision to allow an abortion is prodigious and possibly even unworkable in practice if a woman’s life is at risk. It potentially requires many medical professionals to be involved to agree an abortion is legal, far more than in any other country. The numbers required to agree to an abortion in case of a threat of suicide appear to say it is hard to believe any woman would actually commit suicide and so she must be examined by many to prove it. It requires any abortion to take place in an obstetric hospital unless it is a medical emergency, which also has specific conditions attached.


It makes it very clear that there is no restriction on travelling to another country for an abortion where it is legal. It almost invites women to continue doing so rather than go through this process.


Last, and not least, it says that anyone found providing or having an illegal abortion will be subject to punishment of up to 14 years in prison. This is very serious. In my opinion, it is perhaps the worst aspect of this bill from Irish women’s point of view.


I believe this bill is extremely successful at doing exactly what the European Court required, to clarify the law when a pregnant woman’s life is at risk, and not a step further. For all the easy criticism we can make of every word of it, it is a gift to the politicians who must have felt (no matter what their personal views) that their political lives were not worth having this fight. They can now say “We did exactly what we were told to do by the European Court” and no more. It will be impossible to oppose it – in those terms – from any point of view. The person/people who drafted it deserve a gold star for compliance with the political necessity involved.





Abortions in France are now effectively free , as a law that requires the nation to reimburse the full cost of the procedure took effect April 1, France 24 reports.

The French law greatly expands access to abortions and also offers free and anonymous birth control to teenagers ages 15 to 18. France’s National Assembly passed the expansive abortion bill in October, and the legislation was approved by the Senate shortly thereafter.


The new law seeks to make abortion more easily attainable and offer free contraceptives to cut down on unwanted pregnancies. According to the French Directorate for Research, Studies, Evaluation and Statistics, 225,000 abortions were performed in France in 2010.


As Radio France Internationale notes, free access to birth control includes first and second generation contraceptive pills, along with contraceptive implants and sterilization. However, the law will not include other contraceptives, such as condoms.  


President Francois Hollande first promised to pass the free abortion measure during his 2012 campaign. At the the time, the presidential candidate also proposed adding specialized centers for the procedure to all hospitals, according to Le Monde.


Before the law was passed, France only offered to cover up to 80 percent of [the cost of] procedures to terminate pregnancies. Contraception costs were also partially refunded with reimbursements set at 65 percent. France provides remunerations for abortions and contraceptives through its social security funds.


Abortion was first legalized in France in 1975.



3 March 2013


Ipas News


Inter-American Human Rights Commission to hold

landmark hearing on abortion rights


On Friday, March 15th, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will hold a landmark hearing on the negative impactof criminal abortion laws. It is the first time the IACHR will hear testimony on theharmful effects these laws have on the lives of young girls and women and their families in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and Peru.


Ipas and Ipas Bolivia, in collaboration with Women’s Link Worldwide, ISER/Brazil, Promsex/Peru, Argentina, the Special Rapporteurship on the Right to Sexual and Reproductive Rights/Dhesca Brazilian Platform and Asociación por los Derechos Civiles/Argentina, will present findings from legal research on the impact of abortion criminalization on women’s lives, health and criminal justice systems. These findings indicate that states are systematically violating women’s rights to health, equality and non-discrimination, privacy and due process of law. The organizations will present recommendations to the IACHR on measures to be taken by states to respect and protect women’s human rights.


Legal indications for abortion are extremely limited throughout Latin America, and several countries-Nicaragua, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic and Chile-have outlawed abortion entirely, even when necessary to save a woman’s life. Previous regional human rights decisions have called on states to ensure access to abortion in narrow circumstances-such as when a pregnancy threatens a woman’s health or if she’s been raped. This hearing will address the broader social and legal impact of criminal laws.


The hearing will be take place 11:30 a.m. at the IACHR’s Rubén Darío Room (8th floor), 1889 F Street, NW, Washington, DC. It will also be webcast live on IACHR’s web site. It will be conducted in Spanish, with translation available.

By Miriam Defensor Santiago, Special for CNN
December 31, 2012
Supporters of the RH Bill celebrate, as lawmakers pass the landmark birth control legislation on December 17.
Supporters of the RH Bill celebrate, as lawmakers pass the landmark birth control legislation on December 17.

Editor’s note: Miriam Defensor Santiago is in her third term as a member of the Philippines Senate and a co-sponsor of the Reproductive Health Bill. She is also the founder of People’s Reform Party. Last year she was selected to be a judge in the International Criminal Court, though she has still to take office.

Manila, Philippines (CNN) — We were like David against Goliath. We fought long and hard, and in the end we prevailed.

After 14 long years in the dustbins of Congress, mainly due to strong opposition from the Catholic Church, the Reproductive Health (RH) Bill was approved by both the Senate and the House of Representatives on Monday, 17 December 2012.

Indeed, there is no force more powerful than an idea whose time has come. And the time for a Philippine reproductive health law is now.

Read: Philippines leader signs divisive bill

The Philippines remains one of the poorest countries in the world because, among other things, for a long time, it refused to acknowledge what could easily be seen when one glances out the window: the country desperately needs a reproductive health law.

Not having a reproductive health law is cruelty to the poor. The poor are miserable because, among other reasons, they have so many children. Providing reproductive knowledge and information through government intervention is the humane thing to do. It can help the poor escape the vicious cycle of poverty by giving them options on how to manage their sexual lives, plan their families and control their procreative activities. The phrase “reproductive rights” includes the idea of being able to make reproductive decisions free from discrimination, coercion or violence.

Read: A14-year fight for birth control

Many poor women do not receive information on how to receive reproductive health care. Our underprivileged women have to accept standards lower than what they need, want, or deserve. According to the Department of Health, the mortality rate for Filipino mothers increased to 221 per 100,000 live births in 2011 from 162 per 100,000 live births in 2009. But not only do the women suffer, the children do, too. The children remain undernourished and undereducated because their parents are ignorant about reproductive health care and choices.

In short, the bill merely wants to empower a Filipino woman from the poorest economic class to march to the nearest facility operated by the Department of Health or the local government unit, to demand information on a family planning product or supply of her choice. The bill, at the simplest level, wants to give an indigent married woman the freedom of informed choice concerning her reproductive rights.

If the bill is highly controversial, it is not because it is dangerous to humans or to the planet. It is not subversive of the political order. It is not a fascist diktat of a totalitarian power structure. The reason this bill is emotionally charged is because of the fervent opposition of the Catholic Church in the Philippines and those who wish to be perceived as its champions.

Yet the majority of Catholic countries around the world have passed reproductive health laws, even Italy where the Vatican City is located. Other nations include Spain, Portugal, Paraguay, Mexico, Guatemala, Ecuador, Colombia and Argentina.

Apart from the Catholic Church, all other major religions in the Philippines support the RH Bill. Other major Christian churches have not only officially endorsed the bill but have published learned treatises explaining their position. Support also comes from the Interfaith Partnership for the Promotion of Responsible Parenthood, the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, the Iglesia ni Cristo and the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches.

The position of these Christian bodies is supported by the most authoritative body of Islamic clerics in the Philippines, the Assembly of Darul-Iftah of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao. These constitute the top-ranking ulama, deemed to have the authority to issue opinions on matters facing Islam and Muslims. In 2003, they issued a fatwah or religious ruling called “Call to Greatness.” It gives Muslim couples a free choice on whether to practice family planning.

The Filipino people, regardless of religion, are in favor of RH. In June 2011, the Social Weather Stations, a survey group, reported that 73% of Filipinos want information from the government on all legal methods of family planning, while 82% say family planning method is a personal choice of couples and no one should interfere with it. An October 2012 survey among young people aged 15 to 19 years old in Manila shows that 83% agree that there should be a law in the Philippines on reproductive health and family planning.

This is the will of the Filipino people; it is the democratic expression of what the public wants from government. The anti-RH groups are mute on this ineluctable fact.

Reproductive health care is a human right. The people are entitled to demand it from their government and the government is obligated to provide it to its constituents.


Savita Halappanavar’s life ended because medics put the life of her unborn child – who they knew would die anyway – before hers, and because those medics were prevented by law from performing a procedure that would have saved her.


This week I’ve been thinking a lot about the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar, the 31 year old dentist who passed away in a Galway hospital last month, after being refused an abortion that could have saved her life. By the time this goes live, I’m sure the controversy will have reached Frankenstorm proportions.

Halappanavar was admitted to hospital miscarrying at 17 weeks. However, abortion is illegal in Ireland, and because the foetal heartbeat was still beating, medics refused to perform the medical abortion she needed and begged for. She miscarried days later, but not before she’d contracted the septicemia that would go on to kill her.

Anti-choice campaigners may rabbit on about the provision under law that states that abortion can be provided when there’s a direct threat to a woman’s life, or claim that the medics looking after Halappanavar should have induced labour in order to save her life.

The reality, as we’ve now seen, is that abortions are just not performed. And as for their suggestion that medics should have induced the birth of her unborn, but dying foetus? It would have been both cruel and totally unnecessary when the foetal heartbeat could have been stopped as the first step of the abortion Halappanavar repeatedly asked for.

The fact is, her baby, sadly, was not going to survive no matter what course of action her doctors took. So why not opt for the one that would have saved her?

Last week, I was contacted by Joyce Arthur, who is the Executive Director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC). Arthur emailed members of the British media wanting to talk about Nadine Dorries’ recent attempts to reduce the time limits on abortions in Britain.

She explained that abortion had been fully decriminalised in Canada in 1988 because it was felt that the application of either civil or criminal laws to medicine was inappropriate.

Abortions are seen as a matter for women and their doctors, not law-makers and politicians, and the overall impact has been positive – abortion rates had fallen. Arthur also felt that Dorries, and her strategies, were ‘misguided.’

Happy to talk to anyone who describes Nadine Dorries as ‘misguided,’ I contacted her for an interview.

Who are the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, and what do you do?

The Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada is a national advocacy group for abortion rights so we do lobbying and education. We act on various issues, working with MPs, to protect the abortion rights that we have and also try and improve access to abortion in different ways.

What abortion services are freely available in Canada? Are they available on the Canadian National Health Service for free?

We do have universal healthcare [an equivalent to the NHS] so it is fully covered. In 1969, abortion was decriminalised to allow women to go before a therapeutic approval committee of three doctors to get approval before an abortion.

Abortions were available at some hospitals but it turned out that the committees were very arbitrary in how they made decisions so that law was completely struck down by our Supreme Court in 1988.

After that, access improved. Before 1988 abortions were funded [by the health service] and that continued. We had a fight over the next ten years of getting private abortion clinics, which had previously been illegal, funded.

In your email to me you said, “Parliamentary debate led by MP Nadine Dorries on reducing the time limit for abortion is misguided since criminal or civil law is inappropriate in medicine.”

Can you explain to us how the laws surrounding abortion in Canada works?

We don’t actually have any laws. Basically, abortion care is delivered just like any other healthcare. We don’t use civil or criminal law in healthcare normally. Healthcare is delivered by the medical profession and they have their internal policies, they have a code of ethics for doctors around informed consent, all the normal stuff like that.

Really what it comes down to is a decision between a woman and her doctor, and the doctor has discretion over what’s appropriate for each patient and what their own limits are, and so on and so forth. They decide whether they want to perform abortions, to what gestational length and all that kind of thing.

The Canadian Medical Association passed a policy around the time of the Morgenthaller decision in 1988. Briefly, the policy is on induced abortion. It says:

“Abortion on request is recommended up to twenty weeks, and after that under exceptional circumstances.”

It doesn’t really go into [what these “exceptional circumstances” might be]. It just leaves it up to the Doctor’s discretion.

In practice what happens is that very, very few Doctors in Canada perform abortions after twenty weeks. It’s obviously a more complex procedure – it’s more skilled, so not many doctors are trained in it to begin with, meaning it’s only available at a few centres.

In almost all cases, what usually happens, especially later on in pregnancy, an abortion is sought because of lethal foetal abnormalities, where the foetus can’t survive the birth. Other cases most often involve serious health or life endangerment problems for women.

And sometimes a late abortion might be performed in especially socially compelling circumstances, which would be at the discretion of a doctor. For example, if a very young girl was in denial about her pregnancy, or a sexual assault or a domestic abuse survivor sought an abortion. In situations like that though it’s on a case-by-case basis according to the Doctor.

How has the full decriminalisation of abortion affected women in Canada?
The overall effect was that abortion was kind of incorporated into a regular part of healthcare, and even though we also had stand-alone clinics doing abortions, hospitals still were doing the bulk of abortions at the beginning.

They still do almost half so I think having that hospital-based service is important for integrating abortion care into regular healthcare instead of having it so isolated the way it is in the United States, for example.

I think it’s also shown that it’s working – we’ve gone for 25 years without law and nothing bad has happened – women are not presenting for 9 month abortions so they can fit into their prom dress, and so on.


Back to Ireland. Performing or procuring an abortion in Ireland is a criminal act, with persons found guilty of either risking life imprisonment.

Savita Halappanavar’s life ended because medics put the life of her unborn child – who they knew would die anyway – before the life of the woman in front them. Because those medics were prevented by law from performing a procedure that would have saved her, and because the politicians who have the power to legislate so that no woman ever has to go through this again have refused to.

On Wednesday, hundreds of people gathered in protest outside the Dail (Dublin’s equivalent to the House of Commons), to express outrage at this tragedy and, once again, demand the government decriminalize abortion in this country.

Surely this time, now that Ireland and its abortion laws are under international scrutiny, something has got to give.

I’m tweeting angrily about Savita, Dorries and the state of reproductive rights in Ireland @AlisandeF

To make donations to ARCC or show your support, check out their website, or follow them on Twitter @abortionrights


Indignad@s: NO a ese código penal!


Imminent Penal Code restrictions re abortion and violence against women threatened




Dear Sisters:
I am writing to you from the Dominican Republic. The situation here is really worrying at this point. Last week the Congress gave the first approval to the new Penal Code, that will maintain abortion illegal under all circumstances and even worsening the situation for women compared to the past, among other things violating women’s rights regarding violence against women (VAW), (several improvements  in the Law on VAW in 1997 have been swept away…).


Next Wednesday the Congress will read the Penal Code Proposal again, with the risk that it could be finally approved. Locally, we are a big movement protesting, but who knows if it would be enough?!


We would really appreciate signs of protest reaching the Dominican Congress from our sisters worldwide. I will send you the e-mail addresses as soon as I obtain them since locally we are not using email this way. Meanwhile please find below the declaration issued by the protest movement to the press this morning, with details about the content of the new Penal Code being discussed in the Congress. I preferred not to wait till the last minute to alert you.All the best, Elga Salvador






El Foro Feminista y las organizaciones de mujeres aquí presentes declaramos como inaceptables, por inconstitucionales y desconocedoras de derechos humanos, disposiciones fundamentales contenidas en el Proyecto de Código Penal Dominicano aprobado en primera lectura el martes 16 de octubre por la Cámara de Diputados.


El texto aprobado contiene artículos que representan retroceso y negación de derechos fundamentales de las mujeres, derechos que ya forman parte de nuestro ordenamiento jurídico, como los consignados en la Ley 24-97 que introdujo modificaciones al Código Penal vigente. Ningún Estado que se precie de Democrático de Derecho, comprometido con la progresividad de los derechos humanos, puede permitirse echar para atrás en el reconocimiento y protección de esos derechos.


Eliminación de la sanción a la violencia de género contra las mujeres

En el texto de Código Penal en discusión se identifican importantes retrocesos respecto a la Ley 24-97 como la eliminación de la sanción a la violencia de género contra las mujeres. El resultado de esa mutilación es la restricción de ese tipo de violencia a la que se produce entre miembros de una familia, concepto que desconoce totalmente la realidad de violencia que enfrentan diariamente las mujeres en este país. Las alarmantes cifras de más de 62,374 denuncias de violencia de género e intrafamiliar reportadas en el año 2011 por la PGR, y las 5,657 denuncias por delitos sexuales contra mujeres, dan cuenta de esta realidad, todavía oculta y sub-registrada.


Sólo considera grave la violencia intrafamiliar cuando se cause la muerte de la víctima, una incapacidad permanente o por más de 90 días.  Constituye igualmente retrocesos con relación a la 24-97 la disposición que condiciona a “daños corporales de consideración” lascircunstancias agravantes de la violencia doméstica o intrafamiliar.  Sólo se considera agravante cuando causa la muerte a la víctima, una incapacidad permanente o por más de 90 días.  En contraste, en la 24-97 las agravantes dependen de las circunstancias en que se comete el hecho, es decir, en presencia de niños/as, portando armas, coartando la libertad de la mujer, entre otras condiciones referidas a los hechos cometidos por el agresor y no a los daños ocasionados y verificables sólo en el cuerpo de la víctima.


Reduce la pena al incesto

El  incesto en el texto de nuevo Código no establece la máxima pena para esta infracción, desconociendo con ello los graves daños y secuelas que deja en la vida de un niño o niña este tipo de abuso sexual, al tiempo que excluye de la tipificación del incesto la filiación adoptiva como posible vínculo entre la víctima y el autor/a del hecho.


Reduce la pena al acoso sexual

El acoso sexual se sanciona en este proyecto de Código Penal con un día a un año de prisión menor, y contrario a lo que sería necesario frente a las características y dimensión del problema en la sociedad dominicana, siguen las limitaciones para las mujeres con relación a la falta de compensación frente a la pérdida de trabajo y otras repercusiones del acoso sexual.

Encubre una violación sexual a una menor de edad


Dentro de las infracciones de la sección “puesta en peligro de los menores de edad”, se ubica el atentado sexual contra una persona menor de edad quien ha sido sustraída de la casa parental, castigándose ese hecho con una pena de dos a tres años de prisión menor. Esa sanción es diez veces más baja que la establecida para la violación de un/a menor de edad y la misma que se estipula para quien comete un robo simple.


El Femicidio y la penalización de aborto en todas las circunstancias:

Aunque incorpora la figura del femicidio, el nuevo proyecto de Código Penal lo restringe a la relación de pareja, con lo cual excluye  todos los asesinatos de mujeres que se producen por su condición de mujer fuera de ese vínculo. Datos de la PGR informan 1,382 casos de femicidios desde el año 2005 a noviembre del 2011. De este total, 660 fueron asesinatos de mujeres cometidos por hombres con quien la víctima no tuvo o tenía una relación de pareja.


Para culminar con el desapego del referido proyecto a las demandas de las organizaciones de mujeres, se mantiene la retrógrada criminalización del aborto, desatendiendo reclamos sostenidos y fundamentados de las mujeres por la eliminación de esas penas, en reconocimiento de una realidad de miles de dominicanas de escasos recursos que cada año arriesgan su salud y sus vidas con abortos clandestinos e inseguros. La penalización del aborto en todas las condiciones y etapas de la gestación constituye una violación a los derechos humanos de las mujeres: su derecho a la vida, a la salud, a la integridad personal, a la dignidad, a la libertad de conciencia y de cultos, derecho al libre desarrollo de la personalidad, entre otros.


Todas estas omisiones, vacíos y distorsiones implican una violación a los convenios internacionales sobre derechos humanos de las mujeres ratificados por el Estado dominicano, así como a la misma Constitución de la República que en su Artículo 42 inciso 2) establece lo siguiente: “Se condena la violencia intrafamiliar y de género en cualquiera de sus formas. El Estado garantizará mediante ley la adopción de medidas necesarias para prevenir, sancionar y erradicar la violencia contra la mujer”. Este mandato constitucional está siendo claramente transgredido por el proyecto de Código Penal.


Frente a todo lo anterior, demandamos de la Cámara de Diputados la protección de los derechos de las mujeres y de la niñez sancionando su violación en la ley penal, en cumplimiento del deber del Estado de garantizar la protección de los derechos de todas las personas, incluyendo a las mujeres quienes representan la mitad de la población dominicana.

Santo Domingo, 22 de octubre, 2012


Colectiva Mujer y Salud


Safe & Legal Abortion in Poland Now! |

Prawo do bezpiecznej i legalnej aborcji dla Polek!


In late August or September 2012 the Polish parliament will vote on a new bill that would liberalize the current restrictive law on abortion and expand access to contraception and comprehensive sexuality education.


Poland currently has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe. The law is a fiction, however. Far from stopping abortions from happening, it has merely pushed them underground. It is estimated that illegal abortion generate up to US$ 95 million a year in backstreet abortions.


We need your support to convince Members of the Polish Parliament to support this new bill so that Polish women can again enjoy the full spectrum of their reproductive and sexual rights.

Please endorse the letter at the link below written by the Federation for Women and Family Planning to the Polish Parlamentarians by signing this petition individually or as an organization/network, to help us promote this important cause.

Please share this request for solidarity within your contacts and networks:

Thank you!!
Federation for Women & Family Planning, Warsaw, Poland


Tuesday 12 June 2012

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Jennie Bristow

ESSAY: Encouraging women seeking abortion to give birth and do adoption instead ignores the birth mother’s feelings.

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This essay was previously previewed in the May edition of spiked plus.

Reforming Britain’s adoption system, to streamline and speed up the process of placing children in care with adoptive parents, has emerged as a significant policy issue for the Lib-Con coalition government. The Queen’s Speech last month included setting a new ‘time limit’ on cases of children going into care, stating that family courts should make a decision on whether a child should be taken from their parents and placed in care within six months. This measure wasreported as part of the government’s drive to ‘speed up’ the adoption process, because of its belief that too many children stay too long in care and miss out on the stability of a caring permanent home.

In Britain, official concern about both the speed and the number of adoptions has been rumbling on for some months. On 23 February, the Lib-Con coalition’s education secretary, Michael Gove, speaking ahead of the government’s forthcoming adoption action plan, ‘reiterated concerns around low adoption numbers and delays and bureaucracy in the assessment process’. On 27 February, the BBC reported new rules issued by the schools’ inspection body Ofsted, stating that ‘local authorities in England will only get an outstanding rating for adoption in future if they place children within 12 months’.

In 2011, children’s minister Tim Loughton appointed an ‘adoption tsar’, Martin Narey, former chief executive of the children’s services charity Barnado’s, who had been commissioned by The Times (London) to write a review of Britain’s adoption system. The Narey report was published in July, making a number of quite controversial recommendations. Although the government has denied The Times’ claim that this would provide a ‘blueprint’ for the reforms, many of its proposals are already being aired by government ministers.

There are some problems with Britain’s current adoption system. There are also some big questions to be asked about the current policy agenda to increase the speed at which children are taken away from parents and placed into care – or, in the case of adoption, placed permanently with another family. That is the subject of another article.

But an issue that has also emerged in relation to the adoption agenda is an assumption that this should be more heavily promoted as an alternative to abortion. In this regard, two central assumptions deserve serious questioning. The first is that the number of abortions should be reduced, while the number of adoptions is increased. The second is the proposal that women who have abortions should be more rigorously ‘counselled’ about choosing the option of adoption instead.

Numbers and targets

The issue of Britain’s abortion numbers has been raised as a problem by policymakers for decades, and always begs the same two questions: what would be the right number of abortions, and how might policymakers achieve this objective?

Last year, some figures were provided by Nadine Dorries, the anti-abortion Conservative MP, when she tabled an amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill designed to strip abortion providers of their ability to offer information, advice and counselling to women considering having an abortion. Dorries arguedin March 2011 that offering women ‘independent’ counselling instead could reduce Britain’s abortion numbers by 60,000 per year.

Dorries also talked about the need to promote adoption more strongly as an alternative to abortion. ‘It is a fact that 400 babies were available for adoption in this country last year’, she said in March 2011. ‘Many women now wait until their late 30s, early 40s to start a family and they then realise they can’t and turn to adoption. But it just isn’t an available option anymore because the abortion process is so streamlined that adoption is just fading out.’

Max Pemberton explained the problems with Dorries’ statistics, in his Daily Telegraph column responding to her comments last March. ‘The truth is that childless couples are not being denied the opportunity to adopt, as she claims’, Pemberton argued. ‘There are more couples hoping to adopt babies than there are babies up for adoption, but the key word here is babies. In fostering and care homes, there are thousands of children desperate to be adopted, but there is a dearth of parents willing to accept older children, those with disabilities or those with siblings.’

Pemberton went on to stress that the decline in adoption rates ‘has nothing to do with rates of abortion, and there is not a shred of evidence to support Ms Dorries’ assertion’: ‘A far bigger factor, as the British Association of Adoption and Fostering pointed out when I spoke to them, is the change in social attitudes towards single mothers and improved financial support for them from the state, which means more young women are keeping their babies. In addition, barbaric practices in which babies were wrenched from their mother’s arms and put up for adoption have been abolished. The decision to remove a child from his or her biological mother is now made by the courts only after careful deliberation. This takes time, so that many babies are toddlers by the time the decision is finalised.’

Pemberton’s argument is quite correct, and indicates why we should be very careful indeed of any attempts to link rising abortion rates with declining adoption rates. Intuitively, it may seem obvious that the widespread availability of legal abortion means that women with an unwanted pregnancy will have an abortion rather than have the baby adopted at birth.

But this ignores the changing wider context, including the shift in attitude to unmarried mothers, which may make women with an unplanned pregnancy more likely to carry the pregnancy to term and to keep the baby. It ignores the change in adoption practices, which since the Second World War have been made much more official and permanent, organised formally via the state rather than informally via the family. It ignores the advances there have been in relation to fertility treatment, where the first port of call for a couple struggling to bear children is likely to be IVF rather than adoption. And it ignores the genuine shift in attitudes to abortion – which sees this as an acceptable, sensible and responsible personal solution when a woman has an unwanted pregnancy. Of course, there are those who see this attitude shift as an example of an immoral, callous culture; but many others clearly accept the difference between an embryo and a born child, and recognise women’s control over their fertility to be a progressive gain.

As for the adoption numbers: one central proposal by the Narey review, which has been endorsed by the prime minister David Cameron, is to boost the number of adoptions. One of Narey’s strongest and most controversial recommendations is to produce a ‘league table’ of adoption numbers, recommending that the children’s minister ‘regularly produce comparative information for local authorities, identifying rolling totals of adoptions finalised along with the time taken to complete those adoptions’.

So while policymakers seek to find ways to reduce the number of abortions, Local authorities are also under pressure to increase the number of adoptions, and will be thus compared to one another. This reduction of the complex issues of abortion and adoption to cold statistics in league tables betrays a worryingly bureaucratic tendency.

The reality in Britain today is that abortion and adoption are not ‘equivalent’ options. Abortion is neither an easy decision nor a pleasant experience, but it is a culturally accepted and widely provided solution where an individual woman has an unwanted pregnancy. Adoption can be another solution, but it requires carrying a pregnancy to term and giving a born child up to strangers, a scenario that many women find harder to contemplate than terminating a pregnancy one, two, or even five months in.

Counselling women to ‘choose’ adoption

The Narey review on adoption is primarily concerned with raising the number of adoptions of children already in the care system. But he also explicitly addresses the issue of adoption in the context of pregnancy counselling. ‘Pregnant women in the UK are mostly seen as having a choice between giving birth and bringing up their child or aborting the pregnancy’, he states. ‘What seems to have disappeared in the UK — certainly in comparison to the US — is consciousness about a third option: of going to term but allowing the child to be adopted.’

While Narey stresses that he is ‘emphatically in the pro-choice camp when it comes to abortion’, his report argues that ‘pregnancy advisory charities, children’s charities and local authorities need to highlight that third option [of adoption] better’.

Nadine Dorries has notoriously described Britain’s abortion service as putting women on a ‘conveyor belt’, which pushes women to terminate their pregnancies before giving them the chance to think through their other two options: keeping the baby or putting the baby up for adoption. Frank Field, the Labour MP who initially supported the Dorries amendment, also aired the view that women could be somehow counselled to choose adoption over abortion. ‘It is bizarre that we have couples scouring the world for children to adopt, yet we don’t know whether it is an option put during abortion counselling’, said Field in September 2011.

The Narey review and the Dorries amendment on pregnancy counselling are different initiatives, and there is no suggestion that they have been designed to complement each other. But there is a strange coincidence of timing in the way these arguments have been promoted and their assumptions about the role of counselling in women’s pregnancy decision-making.

Women considering abortion are provided with information, advice and counselling about three pregnancy options – continuing the pregnancy to term and keeping the baby, continuing the pregnancy to term and giving the baby up for adoption, and aborting the pregnancy. While a proportion of women do end up choosing the first two options, it is an insult to women’s understanding of themselves and their situation to imply that those who opt for abortion could just as easily wait until they give birth and hand the baby over for adoption.

The role of pregnancy-options counselling is to give women the space to talk about the reasons for her decision, and to ensure that she is sure about her decision before aborting her pregnancy. The key feature of this counselling is that it is non-directive: it is aimed at supporting the woman’s own decision about what she feels is right for her. The implication of the argument that if women were given more information about adoption they would be more likely to choose it as an option runs completely against the grain of non-directive counselling, and fails to grapple with just how different the abortion/adoption decision is for the woman who is carrying the pregnancy.

As for adoption: as Max Pemberton argues, the biggest problem is not to do with babies, but with older children who may have spent several years stuck in residential or foster care, and for whom prospective adoptive parents are reluctant to come forward. While the number of adoptions of babies is very small, toddlers and very young children are more likely to be adopted than any other age group: as the Office for National Statistics notes, ‘the proportion of children adopted aged one to four has steadily increased over the past decade’ and now accounts for 58 per cent of children adopted in 2010. This raises the question: why would baby adoption be on the agenda at all, when children aged five and over are so much more in need of attention?

Early intervention and the ‘welfare of the child’

As Max Pemberton pointed out, there is a chilling logic to Dorries’ argument, that is, ‘women who have unwanted pregnancies can be turned into baby-making machines for the infertile’. This viewpoint, he argued, ‘also presents children as mere commodities’. In fact, ‘Adoption does not exist to fulfil the need of an adult to become a parent. The sole consideration should be the welfare of the child. Adopting a child is an incredible act of grace and love. If people are only willing to adopt a cute, bouncy baby, then their motivation should be carefully reviewed.’

It is tempting to see the argument that women should be counselled to adopt rather than abort as a rather shameless attempt to push women into childbirth for the sake of providing children for the childless. But this gets the dynamic behind the push towards early-years, fast-track adoption back to front. What is truly startling about the Narey proposals for adoption reform is the extent to which they privilege assumptions about the welfare of the child over any rights, feelings or experiences that the birth parent might have.

The first chapter of the Narey review begins: ‘Adoption is the ultimate intervention in the life of a child and one that, we know, can and does transform lives, particularly when the adoption is made at an early age. But adoption generally becomes a possibility only when a child has been taken into care – that is, removed from his or her birth parents. And that process can often begin too late and then take far too long, endangering the chances of a successful adoption (if that is what is best for the child) or in some cases preventing adoption. Central to this report is my belief that there is a very strong case for radically increasing the number of adoptions in England and in the rest of the UK. But to do so will require us to intervene earlier in the lives of large numbers of deeply neglected children and to resolve their permanent future much more quickly. Delay in intervention and then delay in achieving permanency for children is deeply damaging.’

The policy dynamic towards early official intervention into the lives of children whose families are struggling has been well established by the Lib-Con government, and Frank Field MP has been one of the principal architects of this approach. Whatever the pros and cons of early intervention as a strategy within social work, it has some profound consequences when its logic is adoption. Because, as Narey indicates, adoption is the ‘ultimate intervention’, removing a child permanently from his or her birth parents, on the justification that the damage caused by the child’s birth parents outweighs the legal (and moral) rights that the parent has over that child.

Whether adoption is warranted in individual cases is a judgement for professional social workers to make. And it may well be the case that, if a child is going to be adopted, that child will fare better if the adoption takes place at a very young age. But as a policy dynamic, the notion that children should be adopted out of their families in greater numbers, at a faster pace and at a younger age, carries enormous risks. This is particularly true if it runs parallel with a policy approach designed to encourage women to choose adoption over abortion, and thus reduce the number of abortions.

Whatever policymakers’ intentions, the message here is that women should adopt not abort, because that is better for the baby, regardless of its impact on the woman; and that babies born in difficult circumstances should be taken away from struggling birth parents as quickly as possible, because that might be better for the baby, regardless of the impact on the mother. As a society, do we really want to be so cavalier about the rights and feelings of the woman who bears a child?

Jennie Bristow is editor of Abortion Review and author of Standing Up To Supernanny and co-author of Licensed to Hug. (Buy these books from Amazon (UK) here and here.)

June 4, 2012 by Henri Mamarbachi in Other

Hundreds of Moroccan women a day are resorting to backstreet abortions, a leading doctor has estimated, prompting calls for reform in a country where the termination of pregnancies remains illegal.

Campaigners say some of those resorting to illegal  are the victims of rape, driven at least in part by the  attached not just to having a child out of wedlock but even having suffered rape.

The victims include girls forced to work as maids and women trapped in forced marriages, they say.

And the voices calling for a repeal of the ban on abortion are growing louder.

A national congress will be held on June 12 in Rabat, under the auspices of the Moroccan Association for the Fight against Clandestine Abortion, headed by Professor Chafik Chraibi.

Deputies and Health Minister El Hossein el Ouardi are expected to attend.

“What is happening in Morocco is dramatic,” said Chraibi, a renowned gynaecologist.

Backstreet abortions, mainly among young people, led to the women concerned being rejected by their families, he said. Women could end up being marginalised, forced into prostitution and sometimes committing suicide.

While it is impossible to get accurate figures for what is still an , Chraibi told AFP: “We believe that 600 abortions are carried out daily by doctors and another 200 non-medical abortions.

“In Tunisia, where it is legal to have abortions, it’s 20 times less,” he added.

“A dozen doctors are now in prison for having carried out illegal abortion. A from the Al Jadida region was sentenced to a year in prison, after carrying out an abortion for a young woman,” said the doctor.

And another result of the lack of access to legal abortions was the high number of abandoned children, he added: around 17,000 a year.

The association he runs has been championing a reform of the law. And he argues that legalising abortion could only have a positive effect.

“Our message is that we must work on prevention, as according to the World Health Organisation, 13 percent of maternal mortality is due to abortion.”


The debate over abortion is just the latest front of an ongoing conflict between conservative supporters of traditional values and more liberal, reform-minded campaigners.

A recent case of a 16-year-old girl who committed suicide after being forced to wed her rapist — a provision of Moroccan law allowed him to thus escape prosecution — provoked outrage in Morocco.

Chraibi however said he was more optimistic than ever that there would be change on the abortion issue.

In the past, he said, the political parties were afraid to get involved. But now, the “issue has become a common problem, and the  backs us.”

The minister is not a member of the Justice and Development Party (PJD), the Islamist party that is the senior partner in the ruling coalition. He is with the Party of Progress and Socialism (PPS).

But Bassima Hakkaoui, the minister for women and the family, is a PJD member.

She accused the pro-reform advocates of “using the issue of child rape for political means and in a negative manner, which has deeply hurt the image of Morocco overseas.”

Her remarks provoked a storm of criticism from feminist activists.

Fauzia Assouli, president of the Federation of the Democratic League of Women’s Rights, accused the minister of trying to divert attention from the central issue.

“This type of discourse comes from a fixed mindset,” she said.

“Questions such as rape, abortion and child labour are the responsibility of the state,” she added.

“We are going in all directions. It is difficult to move forward with a conservative government,” she told AFP.

But at the same time, she said, there was a growing sense of awareness, a sense of momentum among activists.

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