The Secret History of Sex, Choice and Catholics
November 28, 2012
November 5, 2012
Source: RH Reality Check
Women who have had more than one abortion are often targets of public-health interventions designed to increase women’s use of post-abortion contraception, or, to put it another way, to prevent them from having another abortion. Instead of seeing these women as “repeaters,” it’s time we viewed each abortion as a unique experience with its own set of complex circumstances.
Tracy Weitz and Katrina Kimport, sociologists with Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH), analyzed the interviews of ten women who’d had multiple abortions (full disclosure: I interned at ANSIRH this summer). Their research was part of several larger studies. The women interviewed varied in age, race, and geographic location, although most were from the Northeast or the West Coast. Together, they’d had a total of 35 abortions. Weitz and Kimport examined how these women thought about each abortion experience. Were they similar or different from each other? How did the circumstances of each abortion affect women’s emotional outcomes?
The researchers found that women talked about their abortions as separate events. Each abortion came with its own set of unique emotional and social circumstances, some more difficult or easy than others. In other words, a woman who’s had three abortions wasn’t repeating the same experience each time. Health interventions and policies that target women who have had more than one abortion should take into account that each abortion —and the circumstances of that pregnancy—may reflect a different emotional experience.
Weitz and Kimport argue, “It is important to recognize that some abortions can be emotionally easier or harder; it is problematic to instead think about abortion as being harder or easier for some women.” That is, just because a woman has had multiple abortions does not mean that each one was a product of the same circumstance. In fact, women reported that they wanted different types of support based on the circumstances of each abortion.
Similarly, providers should not assume that a woman with a history of multiple abortions will have the same emotional or contraceptive needs after each abortion. In fact, Weitz and Kimport found that some women avoided going to the same provider for each abortion because they feared being judged for having multiple abortions or having to hear the same contraceptive-counseling script. Providers should not make assumptions about their patients’ needs based on the number of abortions they’ve had.
Even our so-called pro-choice allies place judgments on women who have had multiple abortions. Mainstream pro-choice organizations often shy away from acknowledging that some women have more than one abortion. Instead of worrying that discussing multiple abortions will rile up the anti-choice movement, we should focus on de-stigmatizing the experience of abortion, no matter how many times a woman needs to access this service.
Women who have had multiple abortions should not be viewed as a separate class of people from women who have had one abortion. Indeed, it may be that the women who have only one abortion over an average of 35 years of trying not to become pregnant, are the rarer ones. Instead of targeting just the women who have had multiple abortions for public-health interventions, the researchers suggest that we offer emotional support based on the context of each abortion.
We should understand women who have had multiple abortions through their individual life experiences rather than judging them on their pregnancy history. If we want to better meet women’s emotional needs around abortion, we can start by using the phrase “multiple abortions” instead of “repeat abortions,” and moving away from policies that seek to prevent “repeat abortions.” To support women who have had multiple abortions, we need to acknowledge that some abortions may be more difficult than others.
June 15, 2012
Publish Date: Jun 14, 2012
By Doreen Murungi
Uganda spends sh7.5bn each year treating complications resulting from unsafe abortion, a new study reveals.
The World Health Organization guidance on abortion-related services reveals that in Uganda, about 300,000 abortions are carried out every year.
“Abortion related complications are one of the leading causes of admissions to gynaecological wards in hospitals across the country,” Professor Florence Mirembe, an associate professor at the department of obstetrics and gynaecology at Mulago hospital said last week.
She was speaking at a three day national conference on reducing maternal mortality from unsafe abortion that brought together different participants in government and the private sector.
Dr. Charles Kiggundu, a consultant gynecologist and obstetrician says many women, especially youth die from complications of unsafe abortion in Uganda.
“There is evidence that whatever the law or restrictions attached to abortion, the practice only goes underground and kills more women,” Kiggundu says.
Dr.OliveSentubwe a WHO reproductive and maternal health expert revealed that 85,000 women are treated for complications from abortion every year. An estimated 68,000 die every year in Africa from unsafe abortion and many more are injured, some permanently. Not only is this a weighty magnitude but there are major financial costs involved.
A study by Guttmarcher, an institute seeking to advance sexual and reproductive health shows that $83 (sh205,000) is spent treating post abortion complications per patient in Africa and jumps to $114(sh280,000) when overhead and capital costs are included.
This means that a country like Uganda, with 85,000 women treated for abortion complications every year, could be spending at least $7m about sh17.6bn.
“Treating complications of unsafe abortions overwhelms impoverished healthcare services and diverts limited resources from other critical health care,” Sentubwe said.
According to the medical experts, nearly all unsafe abortions are because of unwanted pregnancies, the costs result from the failure to prevent those pregnancies through family planning or, to terminate them safely within constraints of the law.
“Health systems have a responsibility to provide these services and to build understanding of unsafe abortion as a critical public health issue, social justice and human right,” said Dr. Eunice Brookman-Amissah, the vice president for Africa of Ipas, a global nongovernmental organization working to increase women’s access to reproductive health services.
The participants urged governments to compare the costs of unsafe abortion with the fairly reasonable costs of the actions that could prevent unintended pregnancies so as to better protect women’s health and cut down the costs spent on the implications of unsafe abortion.
“We need to remove blame, be non-judgmental and provide empathetic care to the victims who certainly do not need to die if there is comprehensive contraception, sexuality education everywhere especially for young people, safer abortion measures for those that must have the abortions and safe and quality post abortion care for the unfortunate ones,” Dr. Charles Kiggundu, recommends.
December 15, 2011
Zwei Angebote für Studierende vom Museum für Verhütung und Schwangerschaftsabbruch in Wien
Analyse des Meinungsbildungsprozesses zur Fristenlösung 1975 – Angebot für Studierende
Vor 37 Jahren, im Jahre 1974, wurde das österreichische Strafgesetzbuch novelliert. Eines der wichtigsten Themen betraf die Frage, ob und ggf. wie das Verbot des Schwangerschaftsabbruches gelockert werden sollte. Mit Vehemenz vertraten unterschiedliche Gruppierungen ihre weltanschaulichen Positionen und kämpften um Einfluss. Die Bandbreite der Vorschläge reichte von einem Aufrechterhalten des Verbotes (mit Kriminalisierung der betroffenen Frau) über ‚mechanistische’ Lösungen (Arbeitsentlastung bei der Versorgung des Kindes) bis zur Indikationenlösung (Die ‚richtige’ Begründung wird mit einer Abbrucherlaubnis ‚belohnt’).
Der Ausgang des Ringens ist bekannt: Am 1. Jänner 1975 trat in Österreich die Fristenlösung in Kraft; danach ist der Schwangerschaftsabbruch vor der 16. Schwangerschaftswoche (innerhalb von 3 Monaten nach der Einnistung) straffrei, wenn er von einem Arzt/Ärztin durchgeführt wird.
Die Medien bildeten die öffentliche Diskussion je nach eigenem Standort ab und ergriffen Partei. Durch eine Analyse der gewählten Inhalte und des journalistischen Instrumentariums lässt sich eine Korrelation der Berichterstattung mit der Blattlinie und den nahe stehenden Gruppierungen nachzeichnen.
Unser Archiv umfasst ca. 1100 Einzelartikel aus österreichischen Medien aus den Jahren 1973 bis 1976. Veröffentlichungen über den Ablauf des Meinungsbildungsprozesses aus unserer Bibliothek liefern strukturelle Informationen zur sachlichen Zuordnung der Belege.
Studierende sind eingeladen, das vorhandene Material im Rahmen akademischer Fragestellungen zu bearbeiten. Wir bieten kostenfreien Zugang zu unserem (nicht-öffentlichen) Archiv und unserer (nicht-öffentlichen) Bibliothek sowie fachliche Unterstützung. Bei Bedarf kann ein Arbeitsplatz benützt werden.
Analyse von Ablauf und Meinungsbildung von Abtreibungsprozessen: ‚Hexenjagd’ in Memmingen, 1988-1989. Angebot für Studierende
1976 wurde in Deutschland der Schwangerschaftsabbruch straffrei, wenn eine medizinische, kriminologische, eugenische oder soziale Indikation vorliegt. Vor dem Eingriff muss die Frau eine Pflichtberatung absolvieren, die häufig als verletzend und unangenehm empfunden wird. Je nach Bundesland (bzw. nach der vorherrschenden Konfession) wird den Frauen der Zugang zum Abbruch erleichtert oder erschwert.
In der bayrischen Stadt Memmingen, wo der Schwangerschaftsabbruch in den 1980er-Jahren von Amts wegen behindert wurde (durfte nur stationär durchgeführt werden), führte ein Frauenarzt im Interesse der Frauen Abbrüche ambulant und ohne die vorgeschriebenen bürokratischen Hindernisse durch. Er wurde angezeigt; seine Patientenkartei wurde unter Umgehung von Rechts- und Verfassungsvorschriften an die Staatsanwaltschaft ausgefolgt, was eine Verletzung des Arztgeheimnisses darstellte. Aufgrund der Unterlagen wurden gegen 279 Frauen und 78 Männer Ermittlungen wegen illegalem Schwangerschaftsabbruch oder Beihilfe dazu eingeleitet. Die meisten endeten mit einem Strafbefehl. Nur wenige der Verurteilten legten Einspruch ein und riskierten ein öffentliches Gerichtsverfahren. 156 Frauen wurden als Zeuginnen vorgeladen, ihre Namen wurden im Prozess verlesen, 79 von ihnen wurden vor Gericht vernommen und zu intimsten Details teilweise öffentlich befragt, den restlichen 77 blieb schließlich zumindest der Auftritt vor Gericht erspart. Der Arzt kam erst durch eine Kaution von 300 000 Mark aus der Untersuchungshaft frei.
Die Amtsrichter von Memmingen verweigerten in den Prozessen die gesetzlich vorgeschriebene Beiziehung ärztlicher Gutachter, da sie meinten, selbst – und noch dazu viele Jahre danach – erkennen zu können, dass es in allen Fällen für die Frauen zumutbar gewesen wäre, ihre Schwangerschaft auszutragen und die Kinder dann zur Adoption oder für Heime freizugeben. Nicht einmal der drohende Verlust des Arbeitsplatzes oder die Abhängigkeit von Sozialhilfe begründeten aus ihrer Sicht eine Notlage.
Die so genannten Memminger Prozesse dauerten fast zwei Jahre (1988/1989) und wurden von den Medien intensiv beobachtet: Die Verfahren fielen in die Zeit einer aufgeheizten politischen und gesellschaftlichen Debatte um die Rechtmäßigkeit von Schwangerschaftsabbrüchen. Aus dem Privatarchiv einer deutschen Hörfunk-Journalistin erhielten wir ein großes Konvolut von Korrespondenzen, Aufrufen, Zeitungsartikeln, Theaterstücken, Büchern zu den Memminger Prozessen, die bis jetzt nur inventarisch erfasst aber nicht inhaltlich aufgearbeitet sind.
Studierende sind eingeladen, das vorhandene Material im Rahmen akademischer Fragestellungen zu bearbeiten. Wir bieten kostenfreien Zugang zu unserem (nicht-öffentlichen) Archiv und unserer (nicht-öffentlichen) Bibliothek sowie fachliche Unterstützung. Bei Bedarf kann ein Arbeitsplatz benützt werden.
Museum für Verhütung und Schwangerschaftsabbruch, Mariahilfer Gürtel 37, 1150, Mittwoch bis Sonntag 14 bis 18 h, oder unsere Homepage de.muvs.org und unsere Facebookseite http://www.facebook.com/eMUVS.
November 28, 2011
Ourselves Unborn: A History of the Fetus in Modern America
Sara Dubow, Oxford University Press, 2011, 320 pp.
Recent discussions about the permissibility of later abortions have raised interesting questions about how we regard the fetus. How much value do we accord to life that has been conceived but not born? Has the way we assess this changed? Does our expanding knowledge of the science of fetal development mean that it should?
For decades, opponents of abortion have called on us to “confront the reality of abortion,” asking us to admit that the embryo is “human and alive” and that abortion “stops a beating heart.” They have accused the prochoice movement of devaluing the fetus, of denying that it is different than any other “blob of tissue” or of likening it to an unwanted growth, a “cancer” or a “parasite.” Their assumption, on the level of rhetoric or conviction, has been that prochoice politics is built on ignorance of what the fetus truly is. Today their challenge to us is this: as modern science tells us more about human development, as 4D scans show us the true face of the fetus, how can we allow its ending through late-term abortion?
Indirectly, implicitly, this book addresses that question.
Ourselves Unborn: A History of the Fetus in Modern America is not an argument about abortion, nor a vehicle for the beliefs of the prochoice movement. Sara Dubow, a historian at Williams College in Massachusetts, has written a detailed and scholarly study of the way value has been attributed to fetal life over the last century. “A fetus in 1870 is not the same as a fetus in 1930, which is not the same as a fetus in 1970, which is not the same as a fetus in 2010,” Dubow says. The change, she explains, is not driven by knowledge about the fetus, but by the emotional and political investment people have in it. Through their approach to the status, development and significance of the fetus, “people— individually and collectively—expressed their assumptions about personhood, family, motherhood and national identity.” How we understand and relate to the fetus is driven by social values and political circumstances far more than by biology or theology.
The book dismisses the idea that the advances in our knowledge about the developing fetus should shape our attitude to fetal status in respect to abortion. It shows that the fascination with fetal feeling, experience and appearance, which seems newly stimulated by today’s scientific discovery, has been a part of the medical, cultural, social and political discourse for more than a century. The form that this discussion takes and the conclusions that are drawn from it have been driven by cultural values and not by accumulated knowledge or new discovery. Throughout modernity, support for women’s choice about the future of her pregnancy was never built on ignorance of fetal life. Instead, it was based on the understanding of the fetus partnered with the concept of what pregnancy, giving birth and raising a child means for a woman.
Today’s commentators assume that, regarding fetal life, our trajectory has been to accumulate evidence that there is little difference between the unborn and the born. Dubow’s first chapter demonstrates how untrue this is. The progression of scientific thinking in relation to the fetus, from Aristotle until the mid-nineteenth century, was not so much a journey to discover how alike babies and fetuses are, bringing us closer to a view that the fetus is deserving of more respect. Rather, she illustrates that the voyage has been one to discover the differences between embryo, fetus and baby. A famous late-fifteenth century drawing by Leonardo da Vinci is generally regarded as the first accurate presentation of the fetus in utero (in “fetal position” ). While feminists have criticized the accuracy of da Vinci’s representation of the uterine context (which appears opened like a Fabergé egg), there can be little criticism of his rendering of the fetus. It is astonishingly similar to the photographs we see today in modern scans and medical textbooks—we are touched by how much it looks like a born “baby.” But in 1487, many would have been surprised by how un-like a man it was. Before then, the fetus was typically illustrated by various kinds of imagined homunculi—little humans—or cherubic infants. (A rich collection of illustrations is included in Karen Newman’s essay, Fetal Positions: Individualism, Science and Visuality, published in 1996 as part of Stanford University Press’s “Writing Science” series.)
Twenty-first century science’s knowledge of the fetus has not exposed the reality of fetal life, nor has it made public support for later abortions untenable. As Dubow reminds us, the Swedish photographer Lennart Nilsson first started to gain recognition for his photographic images of the fetus in the early 1950s.
Nilsson’s iconic series of fetal photographs, which first appeared in the 1965 Life magazine article “The Drama of Life before Birth,” have become the classical reference for feminist discussion of fetal imagery. They employ all manner of deliberate technical presentation and descriptive techniques to evoke “fetal personhood.” And yet, despite the photographer’s intent to dramatize life before birth, just two years later in Britain, and nine years later in the US, abortion was legalized.
In truth, the public has been exposed to, and fascinated by, accurate representations of the fetus for well over a century. Dubow cites the displays of anatomically correct wax models of human embryos, the centerpiece of an 1893 Chicago exposition that attracted crowds of visitors. Forty years later, the fetus was still a public draw, motivating exhibitors to go further to meet the audience for realistic representation. In 1933, some 20 million visitors paid 10 cents each to see a “graduated set of human embryos and fetuses” preserved in formaldehyde “to illustrate the development of an unborn baby from the first month to the eighth.” At this time they were seen as scientific curiosities—educational specimens. Times change, however, and Dubow recounts that, when a similar exhibition was mounted in 1977, the organizer was arrested and charged with the illegal transportation of human remains. Dubow discusses in some detail the changes that had occurred in the intervening decades—how the preserved fetus had turned from a scientific specimen to an emblem of the American family. My point is more straightforward: for more than a century people have known that in later pregnancy fetuses look like babies, and yet they have continued to make legal, moral and public policy decisions related to abortion regardless.
Just as there has been a long-standing interest in what the fetus looks like, so there has been similar interest in what fetuses feel and know. Dubow writes of research at the Samuel S. Fels Research Institute for the Study of Prenatal and Postnatal Environment in the late 1940s, which attempted to address social, psychological and physiological aspects of fetal behavior. She documents studies of “prenatal life” reported in the popular press of the time, such as a magazine article suggesting the new questions being researched: “What happens to a baby before he is born? Is he sometimes uncomfortable? Does he feel motions? Can he hear? Can he think? Is he capable of learning?” Dubow suggests that “prenatal psychology” got a stamp of approval as early as the 1940s, though without any implication of a protected status or fetal life.
The controversies regarding second trimester abortion in the 1970s illustrate most clearly how politics and advocacy are not framed by scientific or medical perception—it is politics that drives perception.
On April 11, 1974, Boston City Hospital physician Kenneth Edelin was indicted for manslaughter following a second trimester abortion. Although the Supreme Court Decision in Roe v. Wade had provided a relatively liberal framework for abortion, this case was complicated by tensions around race, class, ethnicity and concerns about the unchecked authority of doctors and scientists. In a hysterical environment excited by allegations that elective abortions were producing a supply of fetuses for research purposes, some of which were supposedly “kept alive” for experiments, Edelin was accused of causing the death of a fetus. He was said to have deprived a 24-week-old fetus of air after he had carried out an abortion by hysterotomy— by making an incision in the uterus. Edelin denied he had asphyxiated the fetus after delivery, but he was unashamed about his actions as an abortion doctor, which were not intended to result in a live birth. Under cross-examination he confirmed his belief that he owed no duty to the fetus. He was not concerned whether the fetus was live or dead at the start of the procedure since his only concern was for “the mother,” and even if he had thought that the fetus was alive after delivery he would not have called a pediatrician because “this being an abortion before viability,” he thought that an attending pediatrician would have been “number one, contrary to the patient’s wishes, and number two, contrary to good medical practice.”
Edelin was convicted following a sham of a trial, which Dubow describes in detail. The account is fascinating, but even more astonishing were the media reports, which gave unequivocal backing to the abortion doctor. The Boston Globe described Edelin as “a victim of judicial inadequacy that no society should tolerate.” The Washington Post wrote that the Edelin conviction brought “‘disgrace and shame’ to the State of Massachusetts and the entire judicial system … and warned that the impact of the decision ‘on the practice of medicine and on medical research in Boston, and elsewhere, is likely to be enormous.’” The New York Times called the decision “unbelievable” and feared that “it will now become more difficult than ever for women to obtain abortions when they are in the second trimester after conception.”
The case caused the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) to issue a statement reaffirming their support for “unhindered access by women to abortion services,” and warned that the profession, “must guard against local jurisdictions or vocal minorities imposing their ethical positions for medical care on family planning and abortion on patients and doctors who do not hold those positions.” The Planned Parenthood Federation of America worried that the decision “will make doctors fearful of performing abortions.” The National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) was concerned about the affect on “women with no financial means or alternative options.”
Edelin’s conviction carried with it a maximum sentence of 20 years, but he was sentenced to one year of probation, suspended until the anticipated appeal. In 1976, a unanimous ruling by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts overturned the conviction.
We can ask—if Edelin were to come to trial today, what chance would there be that the media, ACOG, Planned Parenthood and abortion lobbyists like NARAL would stand together in unequivocal, unapologetic support for a second trimester abortion doctor found guilty of manslaughter?
Sadly, I think we have to concede that many would say—even if convinced of the righteousness of the doctor’s actions—that public support would be unwinnable. Today, late abortion is something even some who call themselves “prochoice” will no longer defend. Their retreat is not because they have learned more about the fetus, but because they have failed to learn what they should about women’s lives.
Dubow’s work shows that, from the late nineteenth century to the early twenty-first century, “the fetus has been a vehicle through which people have wrestled with assumptions about science and religion, anxieties about demography and democracy, beliefs about feminism and motherhood, and ideas about conservativism and liberalism.” This will be as true for the future as it has been for the past. Ourselves Unborn: A History of the Fetus in Modern America tells a story beginning a century ago, when the fetus was framed in a historical context during which, “embryology became a science, obstetrics became a profession, abortion became a crime, birth control became a movement, eugenics became a cause and prenatal care became a policy.” The challenge we face today is to understand the context in which our appreciation of the fetus is currently framed, and our task is to shape that context and not passively accept it.
In 1996, Edelin, who went on to become a chairman of Planned Parenthood, addressed the matter of whether the loss of a fetus in abortion was always a tragedy. He wrote: “Many women choose abortion because of the tragedies in their lives and in the circumstances surrounding their pregnancies. For these women, abortion is not a tragedy; instead it liberates them from tragic circumstances. Women must never be left out of the abortion debate, or the debate about fetal research, medical progress or moral politics.” He was right. Dubow provides the evidence: it is not fetal science that teaches us what we know to be right. Instead, through the years we interpret and understand that science in the context of what appears right from our own and society’s perspective.
Ann Furedi is chief executive of BPAS, and author of Unplanned Pregnancy: Your Choices.
This review is published in Conscience magazine, Volume XXXII, No 2, 2011. Reprinted with kind permission on Abortion Review:http://www.abortionreview.org/index.php/site/article/1081/
October 24, 2011
Human Life International is an outspoken enemy of reproductive choice, both in the US , where it is based, as well as internationally. International advocates for family planning and SRHR like UNFPA, and our allies in Poland, the Philippines, Mexico, Spain, Brazil, Kenya and Nigeria (among many others) know only too well that local policymakers are willing to accept HLI’s outrageous claims as fact.
Advocates like you need to be able to refute HLI’s claims, and show decision makers the truth about the organization. A new report in the Catholics for Choice Opposition Notes series will help you do just that. I’ve attached a copy for you to use in your work. It is also available on our website here.
CFC’s opposition research on HLI exposes the truth and uncovers some shocking information. HLI has developed a reputation for scandal as extensive as any that we have come across in our 25 years of opposition research. HLI may be one of the better-known antichoice groups, but its reputation far outstrips its real influence. In fact, HLI is far better known for scandal than it is for effectiveness. Its infractions over the past 30 years include accusations of racism, incitement to violence, infighting, a woeful lack of managerial oversight, financial malfeasance, nepotism and sexual misconduct.
I encourage you to use the information we’ve put together here to debunk HLI’s claims and counter its perceived legitimacy. Please share this with your colleagues by email and Facebook. Give a copy to policymakers when HLI is stirring up trouble in Congress, in parliaments, and at the UN. Tell reporters and bloggers the truth when they’re giving HLI underserved attention in the media. Let us know who should have a hard copy of our research, and we’ll make sure they get it. We can send you hard copies if needed.
As always, we believe opposition research is only effective if it’s actionable—and actually used to further our common advocacy. I hope this report meets that standard, and that you can and do use it. Let us know what you think about the report, if you have other information we should know about HLI, and how we can be helpful to you.
Very best wishes,
David J. Nolan
Director of Communications
1436 U Street NW, Suite 301 • Washington , DC 20009
tel 202-986-6093 • fax 202-332-7995
firstname.lastname@example.org • catholicsforchoice.org
Catholics for Choice – In Good Conscience
October 21, 2011
By Sandra Dughman Manzur with Shareen Gokal
Discriminatory laws and the exercise of control over women’s bodies often justified through arguments based in religion, culture and tradition and public morality oppress, subjugate and violate women’s rights all over the world. Using the law to control women’s sexuality and reproductive decisions and actions is the ultimate assertion of patriarchy by States. These laws are often supported by fundamentalist agendas of power and control, and misguided conceptualizations of women’s role in society that are centered on social and biological reproduction.
A Ground-breaking Report
On October 24th, 2011 Anand Grover, the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health (part of the UN human rights special procedures system) will present, before the UN General Assembly, a ground-breaking report. The report will make one of the clearest statements to date within the international human rights system condemning the negative impacts that criminal laws and other legal restrictions relating to sexual and reproductive health have over women’s freedom, decision-making process, and autonomy.
Moreover, until now, most of the arguments for women’s reproductive and sexual control were formulated, within the UN system, on the basis of risks to the women’s health. With this report there is a historic shift in these arguments away from health-based ones to one that is clearly about respecting women’s agency, bodily autonomy and reproductive and sexual rights.
An Independent Expert on a Mission
Special Rapporteurs are individuals appointed by the Human Rights Council (HRC) to research and oversee specific country situations or themes from a human rights perspective.[iii]Rapporteurs are “experts on mission” who hold all the privileges and immunities granted by the United Nations[iv] and are selected on the basis of expertise, experience, independence, impartiality, integrity and objectivity. They are unpaid, serve in their personal capacities and are not considered UN staff[v].
Special Rapporteurs can – but don’t always – use their special status in effective and innovative ways. As demonstrated by the efforts of Paul Hunt, the former Special Rapporteur on Health, the mandate has the potential to influence issues of concern to women’s rights and human rights within the international system. Paul Hunt focused most of his mandate on emphasizing that maternal mortality is and should be treated as a human rights issue. He presented the argument in his 2006 report to the General Assembly; it was the main topic of his visit to India in 2007; the central theme of his 2007 statement to the HRC; and a side panel to an HRC session in 2008, amongst other interventions. His persistence resulted in a 2009 resolution by the HRC that recognized maternal mortality as a human rights issue.[vi]
This will not be the first time that Anand Grover, a long time HIV and AIDS activist from India, has made waves using his mandate. In 2010, in his last annual report, he was lauded by civil society advocates for taking a clear stance on the decriminalization of drugs. He called for de-penalization and decriminalization of all drug users, the regulation of illicit drugs (similar to what exists for tobacco) and a clear shift in the “war on drugs” policy and other laws with regards to the use and attainment of drugs.
The Urgent Call for States and Non-state Actors to Respect Women’s Decision-making Process within Reproductive Rights
In this report Grover calls on both States and non-state actors to urgently respect women’s decision-making process within the realm of reproductive health and rights. The Rapporteur makes it clear that the use of criminal laws to regulate women’s behaviour during pregnancy is inappropriate, ineffective and disproportionate.[vii] For Grover, the use of force over a woman through the legal system directly affects her human dignity and her ability and freedom to make personal decisions about her sexuality and reproduction.[viii] Criminalization of abortion is the ultimate expression of that interference; it discriminates against, disempowers and stigmatizes women.[ix]
Beyond criminalization of abortion itself, Grover calls into question States that have prosecuted women for their behaviour during pregnancy or held them criminally responsible for the birth of stillborn babies or miscarriages of foetuses. This has included women being charged with child abuse, attempted murder, manslaughter and negligent homicide for the use of illicit drugs and alcohol consumption during pregnancy, failing to follow doctor’s orders, failing to refrain from sexual intercourse or concealing HIV and AIDS status.[x]
Urgent Call to Decriminalize Abortion
The report makes an urgent call to all governments to completely decriminalize abortion. It emphasizes that criminal laws penalizing abortion and imposing a specific conduct on pregnant women “must be immediately reconsidered.”[xi] Notably, the argument is not made solely on the basis of the risk that unsafe abortion may have on women’s health, but on the fact that the use of laws to force pregnancy onto women is an unjustifiable form of coercion.[xii] In Grover’s words:
“Criminal laws penalizing and restricting induced abortion are the paradigmatic examples of impermissible barriers to the realization of women’s right to health and must be eliminated. These laws infringe women’s dignity and autonomy by severely restricting decision-making by women in respect of their sexual and reproductive health.”[xiii] [Emphasis added]
Statement on the Use of “Public Morality” as a Justification to Violate Women’s Rights
The Rapporteur clearly states that notions of “public morality” are used to create and reinforce negative stereotypes of women and violate their rights. He states that public morality cannot serve as justification for laws intended to control women’s bodies and their decision-making process.[xiv] According to the Rapporteur, society, governments and institutions have a clear obligation to protect the right to health from harmful social and traditional practices[xv] and policies based on these practices.[xvi]
States must also protect women and abortion providers from fundamentalists’ actions against them. These actions include: harassment, violence, kidnappings and murder (religiously motivated[xvii] or otherwise);[xviii] pressure to exclude sexual education in school curricula or restrict information and discussion of alternative sexual orientations; promote “abstinence only” education, or reduce sexual education to images and stereotypes of heteronormativity, focusing on procreation.[xix]
He goes further to mention that comprehensive, evidenced-based education and information is a powerful tool for the critical examination of gender inequalities and stereotypes; a way of “eroding deeply entrenched systems of patriarchy” impeding women’s equal participation in society.[xx]
Taking the Report Further
The Rapporteur does not go so far as to unpack “public morality” and demonstrate how political interests and arguments based on culture, religion and tradition are used to limit women’s reproductive health rights and impose narrow notions of morality and rigid sexual norms. Nor does he have the scope within his mandate to mention the specific countries or groups that commit violations against women’s reproductive and sexual rights or specific examples of violations. Therefore, countries which completely ban abortion like Chile, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Maldives, Vatican City, and others—whose political or religious elites force their values, principles or religious beliefs upon society to maintain the status quo—cannot be specifically mentioned in the report, although its analysis can and must be applied to hold them accountable for their violations of women’s rights.
A Potential Tool for Change
This report is advancement in and of itself. However, the potential that it has to promote and protect reproductive and sexual health and rights is contingent on how governments, women rights activists and organizations and the international community respond to its findings, conclusions and recommendations. It makes for a strong advocacy tool to hold States to account for their obligations in the realm of reproductive rights and to contribute to the expert analysis and information available in this area.
It would be in the interest of women’s reproductive rights to make the report more accessible, support its findings where appropriate, deepen its analysis further where needed and bring country level violations of the right to health to the Rapporteur’s attention for further action. Advocacy by organizations working on sexual reproductive rights has been strong in the lead up to the presentation of the report and many will be waiting to see the impact that it will have. In the meantime, there are opportunities to support the Rapporteur by writing letters, monitoring the media and responding to any backlash that may arise.
Finally, in their communications (urgent appeals, letters of allegations, public and press statements), country visits and thematic studies, Rapporteurs have the unique ability to cause change –and fast. This report is one example of the ground-breaking, courageous steps Rapporteurs take towards the advancement of women’s rights.
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How do you think women’s rights organizations in your country can use the report?
[i] For more information see Carmen Hein de Campos (Themis), Mass Prosecution for Abortion: Violation of the Reproductive Rights of Women in Mato Grosso do sul, Brazil, Case Studies on Resisting and Challenging Fundamentalisms, 2011, AWID, available athttp://www.awid.org/Library/Feminists-on-the-Frontline-Case-Studies-of-Resisting-and-Challenging-Fundamentalisms
[ii] For more information see Puyol, Condrac and Manzur, The Death of Ana Maria Acevedo: Rallying Cry for the Women’s Movement, Case Studies on Resisting and Challenging Fundamentalisms, 2011, AWID, available at http://www.awid.org/Library/Feminists-on-the-Frontline-Case-Studies-of-Resisting-and-Challenging-Fundamentalisms
[iii] Human Rights Council, Manual of Operations of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, Geneva, 2008, available athttp://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/chr/special/docs/Manual_August_FINAL_2008.doc
[iv] Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Fact Sheet No 27: United Seventeen frequently asked questions about the United Nations special rapporteurs, United Nations, Geneva, available at www.ohchr.org/documents/publications/factsheet27en.pdf, pp. 1 and 15; UN General Assembly, Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations, 13 February 1946, available at: http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/3ae6b3902.htmlarticle VI, section 22.
[v] See Human Rights Council, Manual of Operations of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, Geneva, 2008, available at:http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/chr/special/docs/Manual_August_FINAL_2008.doc, par. 9 and 10.
[vi] Tedd Piccone, Catalysts for Rights: The Unique Contribution of the U.N.’s Independent Experts on Human Rights, Final Report of the Brooking Research Project on Strengthening U.N. Special Procedures, 2010, p. 63
[vii] UN Human Rights Council, interim report prepared by the Special Rapporteur of the Human Rights Council on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, Anand Grover, 3 August 2011, A/66/254, available at
http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/66/254, pars. 38-42. [UN Human Rights Council]
[ix]Ibid, par. 27
[x]Ibid, pars. 38 and 40
The States may also use civil laws regarding child abuse or neglect for the termination of parental rights and the removal of the child upon birth; Please see UN Human Rights Councilsupra note 7 at par. 39
[xi]http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/66/254 par. 20; [UN Human Rights Council]; For more information on the Right to Health within the UN system please see: OHCHR and WHO, The Right to Health, Fact Sheet No. 32, Geneva, 2008, available athttp://www.ohchr.org/documents/publications/factsheet31.pdf.
[xii] UN Human Rights Council supra note 7, par. 12.
[xiii]Ibid, par. 21.
[xiv]Ibid, par. 18.
[xv] For an account of social and traditional practices that violate women’s reproductive rights please see UN Commission on Human Rights, Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, 31 January 2002, E/CN.4/2002/83, available at http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G02/104/28/PDF/G0210428.pdf?OpenElement
[xvi] UN Human Rights Council supra note 7, par. 56 and 57
[xvii] For a better understanding of the way fundamentalist projects work to undermine women’s rights please see Cassandra Balchin, Religious Fundamentalisms On The Rise: A Case For Action, Toronto, 2008, AWID, available at http://www.awid.org/Library/Religious-Fundamentalisms-on-the-Rise-A-case-for-action
[xviii] UN Human Rights Council supra note 7, par. 28
[xix]Ibid, pars. 59-63
[xx]Ibid, par. 63.
For a deeper analysis on sexual and reproductive education see UN Human Rights Council,Report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Vernor Muñoz, 23 July 2010, A/65/162, available at http://www.right-to-education.org/sites/r2e.gn.apc.org/files/SR%20Education%20Report-Human%20Right%20to%20Sexual%20Education.pdf